The integrity of the holy qur’an

SHAFAQNA- it has been alleged that usul al-kafi, one of the major sources of hadith for shi`i muslims, contains a number of hadiths that proves the shi`i belief in the incompleteness of the qur’an which is in the hands of muslims at present.

one statement which is claimed to be made by one of the shi`a‘s imams and presented as a proof for this allegation reads as: “no one compiled the qur’an completely except the imams.” in our opinion, this claim has no basis except a misunderstanding for the reasons which will be discussed below.

first, there is no such tradition in usul al-kafi. what is written in usul al-kafi is as follows:

“i heard abu ja`far (`a) saying: `no one (among ordinary people) claimed that he gathered the qur’an completely in the order that was revealed by allah except a liar; (since) no one has gathered it and memorized it completely in the order that was revealed by allah, except `ali ibn abi talib (`a) and the imams after him (`a).'”

there is no dispute among muslim scholars, whether sunni or shi`a, concerning the fact that the commander of the faithful, `ali (`a), compiled a special script of the text of the qur’an (mushaf) and that he was the first to compile the qur’an. there are a great number of traditions from sunni and shi`a scholars stating that after the death of the holy prophet (s), imam `ali (`a) sat down in his house and said that he had taken sworn an oath that he would not put on his outdoor clothes or leave his house until he collected the qur’an.

there are also traditions from the imams of ahl al-bayt (`a) which tell us that this was done by imam `ali (`a) by the order of the holy prophet (s). this transcript of the qur’an which was compiled by imam `ali (`a) had the following unique specifications:

a) it was collected according to its revelation, i.e., in the order in which it had been sent down. this is the reason that muhammad ibn sirin (33/653-110/729), the famous scholar and tabi’i(disciple of the companions of the holy prophet (s)), regretted that this transcript had not passed into the hands of the muslims, and said: “if that transcript were in our hands, we would have found a great knowledge in it.”

it is according to this transcript that sunni scholars relate that the first chapter of the qur’an which was sent down to the prophet (s) was the chapter iqra’ (al-`alaq, chapter 96).

it was for this reason that the commander of the faithful, `ali (`a), frequently stated in his sermons: “ask me before you lose me. by allah, if you ask me about anything that could happen up to the day of judgment, i will tell you about it. ask me, for, by allah, you will not be able to ask me a question about anything without my informing you. ask me about the book of allah, for, by allah, there is no verse about which i do not know whether it was sent down at night or during the day, or whether it was revealed on a plain or on a mountain.

b) this transcript contained commentary and hermeneutic interpretation (tafsir and ta’wil) from the holy prophet (s) some of which had been sent down as revelation but not as a part of the text of the qur’an. a small amount of such texts can be found in some traditions in usul al-kafi. these pieces of information, which were estimated to be a little less than 10,400 verses, were the divine commentary of the text of the qur’an which were revealed along with qur’anic verses but were not parts of the qur’an. thus the number of commentary verses and qur’anic verses could sum up to 17,000.

in addition, this unique transcript contained the information from the holy prophet (s) about mansukh (abrogated) and nasikh (abrogating), muhkam (clear) and mutashabih (ambiguous), and general and specific verses.

c) this unique transcript also contained references to the persons, places, etc., about which the verses were revealed (asbab al-nuzul). since the commander of believers (a.s) was aware of these facts, he frequently said: “by allah, no verse has been sent down without my knowing about whom or what it was revealed and where it was revealed. my lord has gifted me with a mind which has a quick and retaining understanding, and a tongue which asks many questions.”

after he compiled this transcript, imam `ali (`a) took it and presented it to the rulers who succeeded the holy prophet (s), and said: “here is the book of allah, your lord, as it was revealed to your prophet.” but they did not accept it and replied: “we have no need of this. we have with us what you possess.” thereupon, imam `ali (`a) took the transcript back and informed them that they will never see it again. imam `ali (`a) recited the latter part of the following verse of the qur’an:

and when allah took a covenant from the people of the book to clarify it to mankind and not to hide it (the clarification); but they threw it away behind their backs and purchased with it some miserable gain! and what an evil was the bargain they made!” (3:187)

the commander of believers (`a) then concealed that transcript, and after him it was passed to the imams (`a) who also kept it concealed. it has remained concealed with the imams (`a), one after the other to this day, because they wished to be only one qur’an among the muslims.

those traditions in usul al-kafi which state that no one but the commander of believers (`a) and the later imams compiled the qur’an as it was revealed, and that the qur’an which they had, contained “what can be understood of the heaven, etc.”, and “the knowledge of the book, all of it,” refer to the very commentaries and interpretations quoted in the transcript of imam `ali (`a) directly from the holy prophet (s). allah, to whom belongs might and majesty, said: “and we have sent down on you a book within which is the clarification of all the things.” (16:89)

second, the tradition in question does not mean that the qur’an is incomplete. rather it states that it is not completely arranged in the same order as it was sent down. it is an accepted fact that the qur’an which we have in our hands today, is not arranged in the sequence that it was revealed. in fact, muslim scholars confirm that the first chapter of the qur’an which was sent down to the prophet (s) was chapter iqra’ (al-`alaq, ch. 96). whereas, this chapter is not at the beginning of the present qur’an.

muslims also agree that the verse (5:3) was among one of the last revealed verses of the qur’an (but not the very last one), yet it is not toward the end of the present qur’an. this proves that although the qur’an which is available to us is complete, it is not arranged in the order that it was revealed.

besides, imam `ali (`a) was not the only one who had a qur’an with a different arrangement. according to authentic sunni sources, many companions had different arrangements of the qur’an, that of `abdullah ibn mas`ud being one of them. this person not only had a different qur’an but also, based on sunni sources, had a different sequence of chapters and different set ofayahs. he allegedly believed that the present qur’an had some extra words, and he swore by allah for his claim! he also falsely believed that the last two chapters of the qur’an were not qur’anic chapters but only some prayers. according to the shi`a, these words of companions concerning the qur’an having extra words are false. no single verse of the qur’an is extra.

the second tradition in usul al-kafi which has been widely misinterpreted, states that what was revealed to the prophet (s) was as much as 17,000 verses. note that the tradition does not say qur’an has 17,000 verses. although this tradition is rated weak, it was elaborately explained by al-shaykh al-saduq who was a high ranking shi`i scholar in the field of hadith:

“we say that so much of revelation has come down which is not embodied in the present qur’an that if it were to be collected, its extent would undoubtedly be 17,000 verses … although all of them were revelation but they (extra ones) are not a part of the qur’an. if they would be a part of the qur’an, it would surely have been included in the qur’an we have.”

the qur’anic transcript which was compiled by imam `ali (`a) contained commentary and hermeneutic interpretation (tafsir and ta’wil) from the holy prophet (s) some of which had been sent down as revelation but not as a part of the text of the qur’an. a small number of such texts can be found in some traditions in usul al-kafi and else. these pieces of information, which were revealed as divine commentary of the text of the qur’an, and the qur’anic verses could sum up to 17,000 verses. as it is known, hadith qudsi is also revelation but not a part of the qur’an. in fact, the qur’an testifies that anything that prophet (s) said about religion was revelation. allah almighty said in the qur’an about prophet muhammad (s) that:

“nor does he (muhammad) speak out of his desire. it is no less than a revelation that is revealed.” (53:3-4)

thus, all speeches of the prophet (s) were revelations but were not limited to the qur’an. they also included interpretations of the qur’an (part of which was direct revelation) as well as hissunnah (part of which was indirect revelation).

the third misinterpreted tradition in usul al-kafi reads as follows:

“abu ja’far said: `no one can claim that he completely has the qur’an with its appearance (dhahir) and its inner meaning (batin), except the legatees (awsiya’).'”

again this tradition is referring to the fact that the commentary of the qur’an is missing. although we have the appearance of the qur’an, its inner meaning (i.e., divine commentary) does not accompany it. traditions refer to the qur’an which was compiled by imam `ali (`a) as the one including the commentary.

a word on the authenticity of usul al-kafi

so far, we have clarified the true meanings of the hadiths which have been misunderstood by some muslims regarding the shi`i belief about the integrity of the holy qur’an. now, we turn to another wrong hypothesis which has led to such a misunderstanding.

the allegation that the shi`a believe in the incompleteness of the qur’an is a conclusion based on two wrong hypotheses: first, that usul al-kafi is an all-authentic book of hadith for the shi`a; and second, that this book contains hadiths which imply the incompleteness of the qur’an.

the second hypothesis was refuted by the explanations presented above. concerning the first hypothesis, it should be noted that the shi`a do not consider usul al-kafi to be an all-authentic book of tradition, nor his author ever mentioned such a thing.

it is true that usul al-kafi is among the most important shi`a collections of traditions. the traditions of usul al-kafi cover all the branches of faith and ethics, and all the fundamentals of fiqh(jurisprudence). it includes more traditions than all six sunni collections together (provided that repetitions are removed). for instance, usul al-kafi has 16,121 traditions, while sahih al-bukhari,which has many repetitions in itself, has only 7,275 traditions. if we remove repetitions, usul al-kafi will have 15,176 traditions while sahih al-bukhari will end up with 4,000 traditions. the traditions in discussion here include both usul al-kafi and furu` al-kafi.

the author of usul al-kafi, al-shaykh muhammad ibn ya`qub al-kulayni al-razi (d. 329/849), may allah has mercy upon his soul, is considered to be highly honest and reliable. however, we should emphasize that the supportive evidence of the traditions narrated in usul al-kafi are not equal in value and strength. the authorities of the chains of narration are not also equal in terms of reliability and credibility, and one can in no way regard them as equally dependable.

a glance at the book entitled mir’at al-`uqul (the reflection of minds) will reveal this very point to the researcher in more detail. mir’at al-`uqul is an annotation of usul al-kafi written by another great shi`i scholar of hadith, muhammad baqir majlisi (d. 1111/1700) who is among the most loyal and faithful to usul al-kafi. majlisi has rated some traditions of usul al-kafi as weak.

the shi`a believe that only qur’an is all-authentic. all traditions attributed to the prophet (s) and the imams (`a), are subject to check according to the qur’an. if they are found to be inconsistent with the qur’an, they will be disregard. although usul al-kafi is a reliable book for the shi`a, it is not all-authentic in details.

beside `allamah majlisi, there have been many other books written by the shi`a that characterize and classify the traditions and reports of usul al-kafi. one example is the book namedmasadir al-hadith `ind al-shi`a al-imamiyyah, by `allamah sayyid muhammad husayn al-jalili. he classifies the traditions in al-kafi and gives the following data:

total traditions: 16,121 (including the reports and the stories)
weak (da`if): 9,485
good (hasan): 114
trusted (muwaththaq): 118
strong traditions (qawiy): 302
authentic (sahih) 5,702

as you see, there are some traditions in usul al-kafi that are rated weak by `allamah al-jalili. however, being weak, does not mean that the tradition is forged. if in the case of a tradition, one of the links of the chain of authorities is missing, then the tradition will be rated weak in isnad regardless of its content. in fact, there are a number of traditions in usul al-kafi in which one or more elements are missing from the chain of narrators. these traditions, therefore, are regarded as weak in isnad.

the classification of traditions by a scholar does not prevent another scholar to further analyze and modify them later, as more data/knowledge may be at his disposal. this is due to the fact that the shi`a do not believe in the absolute authority of any scholar but they consider such an authority just for the qur’an, the prophet (s), and the imams (`a). in case that the latter two are not available in person, all the traditions attributed to them are subject to check and verification according to the qur’an.

al-shaykh al-kulayni, author of usul al-kafi, writes in the introduction of his book:

“brother, may god lead you to the right path. you ought to know that it is impossible for anyone to distinguish the truth from the false when the muslims disagree upon what is attributed to the imams (`a).

there is only one way to separate the true from the untrue reports, through the standard which was declared by the imam (`a): `test the various traditions by the book of allah; whatever agrees with it take it, whatever disagrees with it reject it. … accept what is held in common by all the narrators quoting us (i.e., ijma`), since there can be no doubt about what is unanimously held by all (narrators of the traditions).’ but to our knowledge, the contradicting traditions are few, which can be solved on the basis of the above mentioned criteria.

is there any explanation better than that of the author? he mentions that he is not sure if all traditions are authentic. he mentions that there are some contradicting traditions in his book and that we should reject those and all others which are not held by all narrators.

in fact, according to one of his students, al-kulayni arranged the traditions of each chapter in the order of their authenticity. he recorded more authentic traditions in the beginning of each chapter, and proceeding accordingly, put the weakest traditions at the end for they might have some ambiguity.

finally, it is necessary, once again, to emphasize here that all the shi`i scholars 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 holy prophet (s), and that it has not been altered. nothing has been added to it, and nothing is missing from it. the qur’an which was compiled by imam `ali (`a) (excluding the commentaries) and the qur’an that is in the hands of people today, are identical in terms of words and sentences. no word, verse, or chapter is missing. the only difference is in the sequence of sentences.

this fact is so indisputable that the most important shi`i scholar, abu ja`far muhammad ibn `ali ibn al-husayn ibn babawayh, known as “al-shaykh al-saduq” (309/919 – 381/991), wrote:

“our belief is that the qur’an which allah revealed to his prophet muhammad is (the same as) the one between the two covers (daffatayn). and it is the one which is in the hands of the people, and is not greater in extent than that. the number of surahs (chapters) as generally accepted is one hundred and fourteen… and he who asserts that we say that it is greater in extent than this (the present text), is a liar.”

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