Monday, 14 July 2008

Ch4 Quran Programme - Is Puin's Quran different ?

Taken from Muhammad Mohar Ali’s book “The Quran and The Orientalists”

In 1972 a stock of old parchments manuscripts containing manuscripts of the Qur’an was discovered in the loft of the Great Mosque of San’a. in the early eighties the Yamani Antiquities Authority, particularly its President Qadi Isma’il al-Akwa’, ivited through the German Foreign Ministry two German experts, Dr. Gerd. R. Puin and H. C. Graf Von Bothmer, for the restoration and preservation of the manuscripts. They worked at San’a for some years in this project. It appears that besides being experts in restoration and preservation in manuscripts that had “orientalists” motives; for, it is reported that Bothmer make microfilm copies of some 35,000 sheets of the manuscripts and took them to Germany. In 1987 he wrote an article on these manuscripts mentioning, among other things, that one of them, no. 1033-32, could be assigned a date in the last quarter of the first hijri century. More orientalist in nature was however the article which Puin wrote under title: “Observatons on Early Qur’an Manuscripts in San’a”. These writings attracted the attention of the orientalists to the San’a manuscripts and they held a seminar at Leiden in 1998 on “Qur’anic Studies” at which both Bothmer and Puin delivered lectures on the San’a manuscripts.It is not known what exactly they said there on the subject; but the above mentioned article of Puin clearly shows his intentions and conclusions on the subject. In the main he stresses three things in the article. First, he refers to the attempts made previously by the orientalists like Jeffrey Arthur, Otto Pretzel, Anthony Spitaler and A. Fischer to collect the existing manuscripts of the Qur’an in order to prepare what they call a revised version by comparing any differences in them and regretfully mentions that the very large number of manuscripts collected for the purpose at the University of Munich, Germany, were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.

He then expresses the hope that the San’a find offers an opportunity to resume that project of work.Second, he mentions what he has been able to note the “discrepancies” in the San’a manuscripts and says: (a) In a number of manuscripts the letter alif (hamzah) is written in an incorrect way; (b) there are some differences in the numbering of ‘ayahs in some surahs and (c) in two or three sheets he has found surahs written not in the order as found in the Qur’an in circulation. Third he recognises that these “discrepancies” are minor and they would not probably lead to any sudden and significant advance in the field of Qur’anic studies. Nonetheless he asserts that the Qur’an, though it claims to be “clear” (mubin) is not so and that the existence of the above mentioned “discrepancies” show that the surahs of the Qur’an were not written down in their final form during the lifetime of the Prophet and that it is probable that a Qur’an with a different order of the surahs was in circulation for a long time.It must at once be pointed out that these statements and conclusions areclearly far-fetched and totally untenable. Before discussing this, however, it isnecessary to point out that this writing of Puin (and also of Bothmer) gave rise to wide-spread and wild speculations in the orientalists circles if only because these fell on ready and willing ears. One of the orientalist writers, Toby Lester, held telephonic conversations with Puin on the subject and then put forth an article in the January 1999 issue of the Atlantic Monthly under caption: “What is the Qur’an?”.

The article if made up of three types of materials: (a) information about the San’a find an the conclusions aid to have been arrived at by Puin and Bothmer; (b) assumptions of the other orientalists like Wansborough, Cook , Crone, Nevo and J. A. Bellamy about the Qur’an and (c) indications about what the orientalists are doing or propose to do in the field f Qur’anic studies.As regards the San’a manuscripts Toby Lester inflates and reiterates the views of Puin and says that according to him the Qur’an came into being through a process of evolution over a long period; that it is not a book sent down from the heaven on the Prophet in the seventh Christian century; that it is not “clear” as it claims to be, every fifth of its ayahs being either unintelligible of inexplicable and that there are instances of palimpsests or overwriting of some words or expressions in some sheets of the manuscripts. Lester further alleges that the Yamani authorities are unwilling to allow detailed study of the manuscripts for fear of causing uneasiness in the Islamic world but, nonetheless, these manuscripts will help the orientalists in proving that the Qur’an has a “history” just as the Bible has a “history”. As regards the assumptions of the other orientalists like Wansborough, Crone ad Cook, Lester sums up their view as already noted. Regarding the statements of J. A. Bellamy, we shall presently notice them.This article of Toby Lester, more than the articles of Puin and Bothmer, caused a wave of protests and anger against the Yamani authorities’ handling of the manuscripts, which in turn led to Puin and Bothmer to fear that their relationship with the latter would be adversely affected. Hence each of them hurried to write a letter to Qadi Isma’il al-Akwa to clarify their position. In his letter Puin defended himself as well as is colleague Bothmer and denied having said that there was among the manuscripts a different Qur’an than the one currently in circulation, that there was no basis of truth for what the American journal had alleged about their researches about the Qur’an and that the press campaign was intended to harm the academic relationship between he and the Yamani authorities.This defence of Puin is in fact a mere twisting and turning of the words and it does not tally with what he actually says in his article. He says, as we have noticed, that the Qur’an, though it claims to be “clear” (mubin) is not so, that the alleged “discrepancies” show that the surahs of the Qur’an were not written down in their final form during the lifetime of the Prophet and that it is possible that a Qur’an with a different order of the surahs was in circulation for a long time. He also says that the San’a find offers an opportunity to the orientalists to resume the work of preparing a revised version of the Qur’an. It is therefore necessary to discuss briefly the discrepancies and inaccuracies in the statements of Puin himself.

First, in his reference to the collections of the Qur’anic manuscripts at the University of Munich and the efforts of the orientalists in that connection Puin omits to mention a very important fact. It is that, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War the authorities in charge of those manuscripts had actually issued a statement on the basis of their study of them. That had said that a study and comparison of the manuscripts, though not complete, had not revealed any discrepancy and difference in the texts except minor spelling mistakes in some places which was natural and all of which did not, however, affect the correctness and integrity of the Qur’anic text as a whole. The “discrepancies” in the writing of ‘alif at some places to which Puin refers to belongs to this type of error or style in writing and they do not in any way affect the integrity and correctness of the text as a whole.

Second, slight difference in the numbering of ‘ayahs with regard to somesurahs which Puin notices with regard to a few surahs is quite natural. Such difference in the numbering of ‘ayahs is acknowledged even by some classical Muslim scholars and it does not affect the text at all. Even the well known orientalist Flugel’s numbering of the ‘ayahs of some surahs differs slightly from the standard numbering. Significantly enough, while speaking about the difference in numbering of ‘ayahs Puin does not at all indicate any difference in the text of the surahs.

Third, palimpsests or overwriting of words or expressions in a few places do not suggest anything more than correction of mistakes omitted in the writing of the words in the first instance. It cannot be a proof in support of the theory of revision of evolution of the text unless and earlier copy of the Qur’an containing different words and expressions in the same place is shown to exist. This has not been found in the San’a manuscripts nor shown by any other orientalist to have ever been existence.Fourth, the conclusion that the surahs were not written down in their final form during the lifetime of the Prophet or that a Qur’an with a different ordering of the surahs was in circulation for a long time just because two or three sheets have been found where some surahs have been written in a different order, that is surahs from different places of the Qur’an in circulation have been put together, is hasty and untenable. It is important to note that is has been the habit of the Muslims since the very beginning to make collections of selected surahs in one compilation for purpose of study and memorisation, especially be students at madrasahs. And since mosques were invariably educational institutions, it is not at all strange that such collection of selected surahs should be found in a stock of Arabic manuscripts stored in a great mosque. In any case, by the very admission of Puin, this is confined to two or three manuscript sheets only out of more than35,000 sheets. Before hazarding such a serious conclusion Puin and his sort should have got hold of copy of the Qur’an, or a considerable part of the existing Qur’an.Even the existence of a complete copy of the Qur’an with a different order of the surahs does not ipso facto prove that such a Qur’an prevailed among the Muslims unless it is proved that it was accepted and acted upon by them at ant given time; for it is well known that for academic and other purposes the Qur’an has been published from time to time with surahs arranged according to the order of their revelation.
Thus for instance, A. Rodwell published a English translation of the Qur’an in 1861 rearranging the surahs according to their order of publication under caption: The Coran : Translated from the Arabic, the surahs arranged in chronological order. And early in the twentieth century a Muslim of Bengal, Mirza Abul Fazl, issued a new translation arranging the surahs according to the order of their revelation. Similarly Richard Bell made another translation in the early thirties with what he called a “critical rearrangement of the surahs.” It has also been pointed out that the orientalists aim at preparing and publishing what they call a revised and corrected edition of the Qur’an. And of late, as Toby Lester has mentioned in his article, J. A. Bellamy has made this suggestion on the assumption that he has found a number of “mistakes” in the Qur’an.

The existence of a Qur’an with a different arrangement of the surahs or with what is called “corrections” and “revisions” cannot be cited as proof that such a Qur’an has ever been in use among the Muslims.

Islam's Divinci Code ?, I dont think so.

to be continued...


Anonymous said...

Some personal reflections on Antony Thomas’s film The Qur’an.

The programme began inauspiciously: ''this programme contains disturbing pictures of beheading, stoning and female circumcision''.... and sadly the first impression is often the last impression.

Antony Thomas’s film seemed to assume a total lack of knowledge about the Quran and Islam in general. It predictably agonised over verses that “oppress women” and advocate “violence” and we saw some disturbing interviews with Islamic leaders justifying killing women and children if the enemy killed their women and children first. Selective qur’anic verses allowing tit for tat retaliation were cited in support.

I was genuinely shocked to hear of the Shia practice of praying to long dead Imams for help and healing on the grounds that these individuals were holier and closer to God than us. Exactly the same arguments are used by Roman Catholics to justify praying to Mary and the Saints. Obviously the Qur’an condemns such shirk.

There was some utterly horrifying film of a young girl undergoing female circumcision. An Imam from London correctly pointed out the pre-Islamic African origins of this practice. One Sheikh seemed to think it was a good idea though.

Towards the end of the programme we were treated to the revisionist theories of a German orientalist scholar Luxemburg (not his real name). He seemed to argue the Arabic Qur’an is based on an earlier melange of Aramaic and Arabic, and this lead to some interesting reinterpretations of parts of the Quran: references to the ‘Houris’ (‘wide eyes virgins’)were originally references to bunches of grapes! The programme dryly commented that most leading academics are critical of such theories.


Anonymous said...

the torah had a redactor, most likely ezra.

the quran had a redactor - zaid bin thabit.

the alleged perfection of either would depend on the perfection of the redactor.

in the case of the quran there is the additional difficulty of abrogations which require assumptions about sequence in order to determine meaning.

the shia also hold that the quran is not perfect and complete - its not just the beastly orientalists.

the claim of quranic perfection cannot be proved.

it is a belief. there is nothing wrong with that - but what is wrong are silly claims about proof which gives rise to the islamists' supremacy mentality.

even worse are the outrageous "interpreations of meaning" which are designed to mislead the trusting faithful for modern political purposes.

uthman also had political purposes from which the "quran committee" would not have been exempt.

if anyone still wishes to claim that the quran is complete and unaltered, produce the proof.


Anonymous said...

I thought Tim Winter from Cambridge brought some good sense to the programme: for example his cautionary comments about the kind of Islam emanating from Saudi Arabia and Iran fuelled by oil revenues.


Anonymous said...


///the torah had a redactor, most likely ezra.

the quran had a redactor - zaid bin thabit.///

What an absurd comparison. According to the Documentary Hypothesis, Ezra would have chopped and changed at least 4 diffrent and independent sources to produce the Torah

Zaid merely copied out the Quran employing the Qurashi dialect (which was the Prophets favoured dialect of the 7 anyway) wherever required.

You also seemed to have forgotten that Zaid was the Prophets own eyewitness, scribe, and close disciple who knew the Quran by heart, and was working just 18 years after the prophet when numerous other faithful eyewitness were still alive.

Ezra, on the other hand, is redacting sources that came 400 years before him, and 800 years after Moses!

Again, any comparison is laughable.

///the shia also hold that the quran is not perfect and complete - its not just the beastly orientalists.///

Nonsense. Shia read from the same Quran as sunnis. Go to Iran or Iraq and see for yourself.

///the claim of quranic perfection cannot be proved.

it is a belief. there is nothing wrong with that - but what is wrong are silly claims about proof which gives rise to the islamists' supremacy mentality.///

True, but what can be 'proved'? Every position requires at least SOME faith. But on this issue, the Quran has overwhelming evidence of its preservation in the form of, for one, 7th century MSS that all represent the same Quran.

What historical evidence do you have that it has been corrupted?

///uthman also had political purposes from which the "quran committee" would not have been exempt.///

Which were what exactly? And how do you know? And how is this supposed to have affected the text of his ressecion? What's your source for al this??


Anonymous said...

(pasted from sunniforum)
Jazak allah kheir, thank you for an enlightening read. I actually read the article by Toby Lester when it came out and was concerned for any muslims whose iman could have been affected by reading it. It's good to see a Muslim voice confronting the issue.

Jazak Allah kheir again!

Anonymous said...

There is one mistake made by Mohar Ali in his discussion of the palimpsests. A better source of information on this is the website. Briefly, the palimpsest manuscript does reveal some readings which are attributed to Ibn Masud in a number of traditions. Overwhelmingly, however, they affirm the current Quranic text. But in some places they contain readings which are not among the canonical readings. This causes no problem for Muslims since we do not state that "all" of the readings were preserved in the Uthmanic masahif. Some were left out because their recitation had been abrogated and, according to the majority of scholars, the readings were preserved as much as the Uthmanic script allowed it.

Be that as it may, the extra-canonical readings in the palimpsest manuscript do not alter the meanings.