Saturday, September 11, 2010

How The Mass Burning of 7th Century Korans Codified Islam

A Florida pastor threatening to burn Korans has caused worldwide controversy, including calls for the pastor's arrest, concerns about American safety at home and abroad, a man burning pages of the Koran near Ground Zero, and even riots in Afghanistan.

Ironically, burning early copies of the Koran may have created the Koran as we know it today.
The great scholar of early Islam, Leone Caetani (1869-1935), published an essay in The Muslim World Vol. 5, 1915, pp. 380-390, (reproduced in, Ibn Warraq,The Origins of the Koran, Prometheus Books, 1998, pp.67-75; extracts from pp. 69,74) entitled, “Uthman and the Rescension of the Koran,” which included these confirmatory observations about the rationale for assiduously gathering and burning essentially of the extant Korans in 650/51 A.D. Caetani’s observations emphasize how Uthman’s actions, which tacitly acknowledge the existence of Koranic “variants,” and suggest a very human origin of the text, were motivated by a desire to enforce the dogma of the Koran being uncreated, unchanging, the eternal word of Allah—a belief which persists amongst the Muslim masses to this day.
The official canonical redaction undertaken at Uthman’s command, was due to the uncertainty which reigned in reference to the text. It is clear that in 30 A.H. (650/51 A.D.) no official redaction existed. [Islamic] Tradition itself [i.e., the hadith, Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 61, Number 510, above] admits that there were various “schools,” one in Iraq, one in Syria, one in al-Basrah, besides others in smaller places, and then, exaggerating in an orthodox sense this scandal, tries to make out that the divergences were wholly immaterial; but such affirmations accord ill with the opposition excited by the caliph’s act in al-Kufah. The official version must have contained somewhat serious modifications…
Uthman ordered the compilation of a single official text of the Koran, and the violent suppression, the destruction by fire of all the other copies existing in the provinces…It should be added that even if all existing copies of the Koran could not be traced to Uthman’s official copy, anyone who cast aspersions on Uthman’s action would be liable to the charge of raising doubts about the foundation of all Islam, for the Islamic world from one end to the other lives in the conviction that the text existing today represents the true, eternal, immutable word of God.
In addition, the hadiths - being second to only the Koran in terms of Islamic authority - provide historical context and clarification to Muhammad's words and actions. One of the six recognized hadiths, the Sahih Bukhari Ahadith, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 509 explains how the Koran came to be written down:
Abu Bakr then said (to me), "Umar has come to me and said: "Casualties were heavy among the Qurra' of the! Qur'an (i.e. those who knew the Quran by heart) on the day of the Battle of Yalmama, and I am afraid that more heavy casualties may take place among the Qurra' on other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be lost. Therefore I suggest, you (Abu Bakr) order that the Qur'an be collected." 
I said to 'Umar, "How can you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" 'Umar said, "By Allah, that is a good project. "Umar kept on urging me to accept his proposal till Allah opened my chest for it and I began to realize the good in the idea which 'Umar had realized." Then Abu Bakr said (to me). 'You are a wise young man and we do not have any suspicion about you, and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Apostle. So you should search for (the fragmentary scripts of) the Qur'an and collect it in one book." By Allah If they had ordered me to shift one of the mountains, it would not have been heavier for me than this ordering me to collect the Qur'an. 
Then I said to Abu Bakr, "How will you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" Abu Bakr replied, "By Allah, it is a good project." Abu Bakr kept on urging me to accept his idea until Allah opened my chest for what He had opened the chests of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. 
So I started looking for the Qur'an and collecting it from (what was written on) palmed stalks, thin white stones and also from the men who knew it by heart, till I found the last Verse of Surat At-Tauba (Repentance) with Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari, and I did not find it with anybody other than him. 
So we almost didn't end up with a written Koran, because most of the people who memorized it were killed in battle. But we did get it because a couple influential guys thought compiling the Koran before everyone forgot it would be a good idea and then goaded someone into doing it.

And thus, we see in Number 510, compiling these memorized "recitations" did occur to create the "perfect" version of what Muhammad said.
Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham 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 AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and 'AbdurRahman 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, 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.
But why were there already multiple versions of the Koran, barely a century into the existence of the religion? Apparently, Muhammad taught seven different versions of "the Koran."

I heard Hisham bin Hakim reciting Surat Al-Furqan during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle and I listened to his recitation and noticed that he recited in several different ways which Allah's Apostle had not taught me. I was about to jump over him during his prayer, but I controlled my temper, and when he had completed his prayer, I put his upper garment around his neck and seized him by it and said, "Who taught you this Sura which I heard you reciting?" He replied, "Allah's Apostle taught it to me." I said, "You have told a lie, for Allah's Apostle has taught it to me in a different way from yours." So I dragged him to Allah's Apostle and said (to Allah's Apostle),
"I heard this person reciting Surat Al-Furqan in a way which you haven't taught me!" On that Allah's Apostle said, "Release him, (O 'Umar!) Recite, O Hisham!" Then he recited in the same way as I heard him reciting. Then Allah's Apostle said, "It was revealed in this way," and added, "Recite, O 'Umar!" I recited it as he had taught me. Allah's Apostle then said, "It was revealed in this way. This Qur'an has been revealed to be recited in seven different ways, so recite of it whichever (way) is easier for you (or read as much of it as may be easy for you)."
Obviously, telling different people to memorize different words and saying only what they heard is the "true" version is going to cause some confusion.

But this begs following questions:

1. As originally brought up in Number 509, if Muhammad's words were in fact the revealed word of Allah, and Muhammad never commanded anyone to write the words down, did anyone really have any authority to compile and decide what Muhammad did and didn't really say?

2. If there were actually seven versions of the Koran, does that mean seven versions of different Suras, or seven versions with slightly different details?

3. Were these versions among the fragments and whole copies collected and burned?

4. Did Caliph Uthman, then, commit the ultimate, "anti-Islamic sin" currently being condemned by Muslims  worldwide by burning words of Allah, revealed to Muhammad through Gabriel?

If that's the case, then historical amnesia played a joke on all of us this week.

(via Andrew Bostom)

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