The persistent claim by Muslims everywhere is that the Qur’an has been preserved perfectly since the time that it was revealed to Muhammad 1400 years ago. Well known Muslim scholars like Dr Yasir Qadhi and Dr Shabir Ally have said numerous times that “Not one word or even one letter has been changed since 652 AD”!
They have to say this because the Qur’an claims it:
Surah 15:9 says that Allah will preserve his Qur’an from any change, which, according to Muslims means that even the words and letters are guarded.
Surah 10:15 says that no one can change the Qur’an, not even Muhammad.
Surah 18:27 echoes this claim, stipulating that it is not possible for even one person to change Allah’s word.
But the textual history of the Qur’an tells us a completely different story, proving that the Qur’an has been changed by men many times over the past 1400 years.
When we read the Hadith, according to Sahih Al-Bukhari 6:509-510, the standard work on how the Qur’an was even compiled, we find that he clearly admits that there were changes between the first Qur’an commissioned by Abu Bakr in 632 AD and the second Qur’an commissioned 20 years later by Uthman in 652 AD, so much so that Uthman demanded that Zaid ibn Thabit, the compiler of both Qur’ans, rewrite it during his reign and use only the Quraishi dialect to do so, suggesting that the first rendition didn’t use this dialect.
What’s more, Uthman then had every other Qur’an which disagreed with this final copy be burned so that there would not be any differing copies.
He then sent a copy of this official Quraishi Qur’an to 5 cities (Medina, Mecca, Basra, Kufa and Damascus) so that no more differing Qur’ans could be written, suggesting that a standard Qur’an was a real problem even in the 7th century!
Subsequently, we are told in the Islamic Traditions that a Qur’an written by Ubay ibn Ka’b in Damascus (Syria) in the later part of the 7th century had 116 Surahs, which is 2 more Surahs than that of the original compiled by Zaid ibn Thabit, while another Qur’an was written by Ibn Masu’d in Kufa (Iraq) which had only 110 Surahs, a good 4 Surahs fewer than Zaid ibn Thabit’s.
But it gets even worse.
In the 8th – 10th centuries many more differing Qur’ans were created (possibly as many as 700 according to the Harvard scholar Dr Shady Nasser), with the author of each Qur’an applying their name to their renditions. These were then memorized by people in their respective geographic centres, a practice which has continued right up to the present day.
This became such a problem in the early years that Ibn Mujahid was commissioned by the Caliph in 936 AD to choose 7 Qira’at Qur’ans (i.e. different readings of the Qur’an).
In 1194 AD al Shatibi was commissioned to choose another 14 Riwayats (i.e. a further 2 readings for each of the original 7) which means the Muslims now had 21 differing Qur’ans by the end of the 12th century, a good 560 years after Muhammad.
In 1429 AD al Jazari was commissioned to choose 3 more Qira’ats and another 6 Riwayats to bring the total number of different Qur’ans to 30, almost 800 years after Muhammad!
This became a real dilemma in the 20th century.
With 30 differing “official” Qur’ans containing over 93,000 differences between them, there was no way that schools in Cairo could have standardized tests on the Qur’an, so they had Muhammad al Husseini al Haddad, a scholar from the famed Al Azhar university, choose just one, the Hafs text, a Qur’an which was written by a man named Hafs in Kufa, Iraq, in 796 AD, around 144 years after Muhammad died, yet who lived hundreds of miles away from Medina.
This Hafs text was then commissioned by King Fahd in Saudi Arabia as the official text for the whole Muslim world in 1985; yet, it differs from the 2nd most popular Qur’an, the Warsh Qur’an, in 5,000 different places.
This all goes to show that the Qur’an has changed numerous times over the past 1400 years, so that no longer can Muslims claim it was “perfectly preserved”, and no longer can we trust the claims for the Qur’an itself when it makes that same claim.
Truly the ‘Standard Islamic Narrative’ concerning the preservation of the Qur’an is, as Dr Yasir Qadhi, a scholar on the Qur’an said in 2020, “full of holes”.
In fact, the entire narrative of a “perfectly preserved Qur’an” with not one word or letter changed, is in tatters, proving that Allah has not done a very good job of preserving his word at all!
© Pfander Centre for Apologetics – US, 2022
(66,930) Music: “Feeling the Caribbean Sun” by Horst Hoffman, from filmmusic-io