Review Of The Col­lec­tion of the Qur’an” By John Burton

Review tak­en from Abu Ammaar Yasir Qad­hi, An Intro­duc­tion to the Sci­ences of the Qur’aan (Al-Hidaayah Pub­lish­ing and Dis­tri­b­u­tion, 1999). Edit­ed by I. Damiel

The last work that shall be dis­cussed is a rel­a­tive­ly recent one : The Col­lec­tion of the Qur’an by John Bur­ton. It was pub­lished in 1977 by Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press.

What Bur­ton did was to take the the­o­ries of Schacht con­cern­ing the valid­i­ty of hadeeth and apply them to the his­to­ry of the com­pi­la­tion of the Qur’aan. As was men­tioned ear­li­er, Schacht (and before him Goldz­i­her) claimed and pop­u­larised the the­o­ry that all hadeeth lit­er­a­ture are forg­eries of the schol­ars of the sec­ond and third cen­tu­ry of the hijrah. Bur­ton writes in his intro­duc­tion that his work, seeks to re-open the ques­tion of the col­lec­tion of the Qur’aan as seen by Mus­lims. Their accounts will be re-exam­ined in the light of stud­ies by Goldz­i­her and Schacht”.

For Bur­ton’s hon­esty, at least, he must be giv­en greater cred­it than Jef­fery. He states, one must either accept all hadeeth as at least poten­tial­ly guilty of a greater or less­er degree of inher­ent bias.It is amus­ing how Bur­ton give an either-or argu­ment here con­cern­ing hadeeth ; either naive­ly accept every­thing or crit­i­cal­ly reject every­thing. He does not even both­er to men­tion the fact that there are strict rules of the muhadeetheen that enable a schol­ar to detect what is authen­tic from what is weak. We can­not in our arro­gance con­tin­ue to pre­sume that, guid­ed by mere­ly lit­er­ary intu­ition, we can safe­ly pick our way, select­ing or reject­ing hadeeths”.

Actu­al­ly, Bur­ton has some very inter­est­ing and unique the­o­ries. He dis­miss­es all the nar­ra­tions con­cern­ing the col­lec­tion of the Qur’aan, since all those sto­ries, accord­ing to Schacht’s prin­ci­ples, must be inven­tions by lat­er gen­er­a­tions. There­fore, since he has reject­ed all these nar­ra­tions, he is forced to bring forth a total­ly unique and bizarre his­to­ry of the com­pi­la­tion of the Qur’aan

Accord­ing to Bur­ton, it was Muhammed (May God bless him and grant him peace) him­self who com­piled the Qu’raan. How­ev­er, Amid his man­i­fold state respon­si­bil­i­ties Muhammed could not always him­self remem­ber the pre­cise word­ing in which he had giv­en out cer­tain rev­e­la­tions. This is how dif­fer­ent Com­pan­ions received their slight­ly dif­fer­ing ver­sions, although all were received direct from the Prophet him­self. Cer­tain vers­es Muhammed for­got out­right, oth­ers he sum­mar­i­ly altered. With his own hand he had can­celled yet oth­er vers­es”. This is Bur­ton’s under­stand­ing of the con­cept of the ahruf !

In try­ing to explain why lat­er Mus­lim author­i­ties claimed that the Com­pan­ions were the ones who com­piled the Qur’aan (since, accord­ing to him, these author­i­ties forged the nar­ra­tions per­tain­ing to the col­lec­tion of the Qur’aan), Bur­ton comes out with anoth­er bizarre the­o­ry. After the Prophet’s death, argues Bur­ton, lat­er Mus­lim jurists forged the con­cept of naskh, so that they could jus­ti­fy cer­tain fiqh posi­tions that they held (such as the ston­ing of the adul­ter­er). These jurists wished to some­how sup­port these posi­tions of fiqh, so they decid­ed, accord­ing to Bur­ton, to forge cer­tain vers­es’ that used to be part of the Qur’aan. As it was well known what the Qur’aan was, these vers­es could not be added into the present mus-haf, so, some­how, a means of prov­ing that these vers­es had once formed a part of the mus-haf but now no longer did had to be the­o­rised. This was the con­cept of naskh.

In order to jus­ti­fy this the­o­ry, Bur­ton con­tin­ues, these jurists claimed that the Prophet could not have com­piled the Qur’aan in his life­time, since naskh could occur at any­time dur­ing his life. This, accord­ing to Bur­ton, led these jurists to devel­op the con­cept of naskh, and invent vers­es’ that had been left out of the present mus-haf that dealt with the fiqh posi­tions that they wished to prove. Since the Prophet could not have com­piled the Qur’aan, it must have been the Com­pan­ions who had done so, and this explains the forged’ nar­ra­tions con­cern­ing the his­to­ry of the com­pi­la­tion of the Qur’aan.

Bur­ton states, This motive (i.e., that of prov­ing the valid­i­ty of naskh) induced the Mus­lims to exclude their Prophet from the his­to­ry of the col­lec­tion of their Qur’aan text. It was a com­pelling motive. It was their only motive.”

Ini­tial­ly, accord­ing to Bur­ton, the role of com­pil­ing the Qur’aan was giv­en to Uth­maan. How­ev­er, when the pop­u­lar­i­ty of Uth­maan declined amongst the mass­es, the peo­ple had to trans­fer the hon­our of the ini­tial com­pi­la­tion to Aboo Bakr and Umar, and give Uth­maan a less­er role. With all of these jum­bled reports appear­ing on the scene,

This led to the attempts to har­monise these con­flict­ing attri­bu­tions ; Abu Bakr had ini­ti­at­ed the sacred under­stand­ing. Umar acquir­ing the mer­it of hav­ing com­plet­ed it ; Umar is cred­it­ed with ini­ti­at­ing the under­tak­ing, Uth­man is grudg­ing­ly allowed the less­er mer­it of com­plet­ing the work of his pious and ener­getic predecessor.
This, then, is the sum­ma­ry of Bur­ton’s ver­sion of the com­pi­la­tion of the Qur’aan. It is an amus­ing sto­ry, if noth­ing else. The schol­ars of Islaam were in a dilem­ma to explain their stance on cer­tain fiqh issues. There­fore, they had to invent the con­cept of naskh in the Qur’aan, and back it up by forg­ing vers­es’ that were sup­posed to have been mansookh.

If these schol­ars had so lit­tle sin­cer­i­ty that hey had no qualms forg­ing vers­es from the Qur’aan, then why not just forge hadeeth to sup­port their points ? In oth­er words, why go through the nui­sance of invent­ing the con­cept of naskh and then try­ing to prove it by back­ing it up with false nar­ra­tions, when they could have just as eas­i­ly con­coct­ed a hadeeth to prove their posi­tions ? After all, this is the whole the­o­ry of Schacht and mod­ern Ori­en­tal­ists — that lat­er jurists con­coct­ed hadeeth as they desired !

In real­i­ty, Bur­ton does not sub­stan­ti­ate his claims with any strong proof. For exam­ple, he only brings to vers­es to prove his the­sis that lat­er schol­ars invent­ed the con­cept of naskh : the verse of ston­ing’ and the verse of suck­ling’. Through­out the whole work, the pri­ma­ry exam­ple that is reit­er­at­ed is the verse of ston­ing’. If what Bur­ton states is true, then there should exist a large quan­ti­ty of vers­es which give fiqh rul­ings but were left out of the mus-haf. In oth­er words, if the whole con­cept of naskh was prop­a­gat­ed with the sole pur­pose of sup­port­ing cer­tain fiqh posi­tions that a jurist might hold, then cer­tain­ly these jurists would have used this con­cept reg­u­lar­ly, and attrib­uted many of their views to vers­es’ that had been abro­gat­ed. How­ev­er, as is well known, these exist very few vers­es of this nature, and Bur­ton can only quote two exam­ples through­out his work. In addi­tion, he gives a very weak inter­pre­ta­tion of the Qur’aan­ic vers­es that explic­it­ly men­tion the con­cept of naskh, and of the occur­rences of naskh dur­ing the Prophet’s lifetime.

Anoth­er point that Bur­ton absolute­ly ignores is that the Prophet was illit­er­ate. The indis­putably of this fact is well-known, and beyond the need of any isnaad. Even the Qur’aan refers to the Prophet’s illit­er­a­cy a num­ber of times. How is it pos­si­ble, then, that the Prophet secret­ly authored the Qur’aan, edit­ed it, and dis­trib­uted it amongst the people ?

Through­out the work, Bur­ton con­stant­ly re-empha­sis­es one theme : that all the nar­ra­tions con­cern­ing the com­pi­la­tion of the Qur’aan are forg­eries of lat­er gen­er­a­tions. With this pre­sump­tion in mind, Bur­ton goes to exces­sive (and in fact ludi­crous) extremes in try­ing to deter­mine the motives for these forg­eries. It nev­er occurs to Bur­ton that the ear­ly schol­ars of Islaam (the salaf) were not so depraved or unscrupu­lous that they would forge nar­ra­tions and attribute them to the Prophet at whim. If Bur­ton’s the­o­ry (based on Schacht and Goldz­i­her) are true, this implies that the salaf were busy prop­a­gat­ing lies and forg­eries through­out their lives ; all the time well aware that these nar­ra­tions were all forg­eries (since they them­selves were doing the forg­ing!), but naive­ly study­ing them ; trav­el­ling great dis­tances to obtain them ; hon­our­ing those that had mem­o­rised them ; and cod­i­fy­ing them with great care ! The the­o­ry that all these nar­ra­tions are forg­eries that occured on such mass-scales, and the silent approval of all the schol­ars of that time con­cern­ing them, seems so na ? and absurd that only one who is blind­ed in his ani­mos­i­ty of Islaam can believe it.

Actu­al­ly, Bur­ton’s whole the­o­ry rests, as was stat­ed ear­li­er, on Schacht’s con­cep­tion of hadeeth lit­er­a­ture. This view has been apt­ly refut­ed by M. M. Aza­mi in his superb work, On Schacht’s Ori­gins of Muham­madan Jurispru­dence.Cf. pp. 115 – 154. No stu­dent of knowl­edge can be with­out this work, espe­cial­ly if he wish­es to respond to the claims of Ori­en­tal­ists (pub­lished by John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1985) In this work, Aza­mi demon­strates the incon­sis­ten­cies in Schacht’s the­o­ry and source mate­r­i­al ; his unwar­rant­ed assump­tions and unsci­en­tif­ic research meth­ods ; his igno­rance of the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion of the time ; and his mis­un­der­stand­ing and dis­tor­tions of the quo­ta­tions of ear­ly schol­ars. There­fore, with the refu­ta­tion of Schacht, Bur­ton’s the­o­ry are auto­mat­i­cal­ly disproved.

Bur­ton’s con­clu­sions, though, is unusu­al, com­ing from an Ori­en­tal­ist. He claims that the mus-haf that we have in our hands today is the mus-haf of Muham­mad”, mean­ing that Muham­mad (may God bless him and grant him peace) had writ­ten the whole Qur’aan in one book before his death.

In con­clu­sion, Bur­ton’s work rep­re­sents a very bizarre and high­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry account of the col­lec­tion of the Qur’an. Bur­ton seems to take a few exam­ples and draw extra­or­di­nary con­clu­sions and sweep­ing gen­er­al­i­ties with them, absolute­ly ignor­ing all oth­er nar­ra­tions and fac­tors relat­ed to the top­ic. In this author’s opin­ion, in order to come forth with some­thing total­ly unique, Bur­ton out­did himself. Review Of "The Collection of the Qur'an" By John Burton 1Endmark






One response to “Review Of The Col­lec­tion of the Qur’an” By John Burton”

  1. Nordin Avatar

    Mashal­lah broth­er mashallah !
    We need more well edu­cat­ed Mus­lims, as the new war is fight­ing against false infor­ma­tion about Islam !
    May Allah reward you with a place in paradise !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *