Dr. Peter Riddell’s lecture on the Text and Translation of the Qur’an was delivered during a CIU course. In the first part, Riddell presented Islamic perspectives on the historical and contemporary understanding of the Qur’an and issues related to the variant readings of the Qur’an.


 Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Qur’an Text & Translation Pt1


Welcome back to understanding the Quran. In this, first lecture, we’re going to be addressing the Quran itself, the Quran text and translation, and we’re beginning, this first segment of this, lecture topic by listening to Muslim voices on the Quran. Now I would draw your attention to the course website, to the resources available there. I’ve provided links to some important web materials. There is a vast amount of information on the Quran and on its text, and on its interpretation on the on the, Internet.


And I draw your attention to up the, top of the course website to a link that’s provided to thequran.com website. It provides a vast amount of information on the Quran, various translations, word studies on the Quran. I’d also, note the Quran and Hadith Explorer that’s available there through a link, again, a good resource, and we should start our study of the Quran by reading and listening to what Muslims say about the Quran. And those 2 websites and other materials available, will help you do that. How do Muslim view the Quran?


What I’m providing in these slides is merely, the tip of the iceberg, but I’m going to take 2 views, 2 stated views by Muslims of what they consider the Quran to be to give us a window into Muslim attitudes. And in the next segment, we will, look at non Muslim attitudes so that we have a sense of the range of opinion that exists out there about the Quran. The first, voice I want to listen to is the voice of Abu Hanifa. Now Abu Hanifa, as you can see, he died in 765. He’s a great early scholar of Islam.


In fact, he was the founder of the Hanafi, law school, one of the 4 surviving law schools in Sunni Islam named after him, the Hanafi law school, Hanafites, they’re referred to named after Abu Hanifa. That is the dominant law school in Turkey and Turkish influenced areas of the Muslim world. He’s a very key thinker and a key writer. He’s left a lot of writing and so what he says carries a lot of weight. Let’s listen to what he says, and let’s think about his description of the Quran.


The Quran is the word of God and is his inspired word and revelation. It’s a necessary attribute of God. It’s not God, but still it is inseparable from God. It’s written in volume. It’s written in language.


It’s remembered in the heart, and its letters and its vowel points and its writing are all created for these are the works of man, but God’s word is uncreated. Its words, its writing, its letters, and its verses after the necessities of man, for its meaning is arrived at by their use. But the word of God is fixed in the essence of God, and he who says that the word of God is created is an infidel. Now a couple of thoughts about this. Note the last sentence, the last phrase, in fact, he who says that the word of God is created is an infidel.


That’s actually a window into a big debate that was taking place during his lifetime. He died in the middle of the 700, and this was a period of a huge debate bit between a school of thinkers who could be termed liberal in the modern in modern terminology, who argued for human free will, and they also argued that the Quran was a created text. Now he is responding to that and rejecting that stance and that opposition, the view that the Quran was uncreated came to be the dominant viewpoint and it came to be part of orthodoxy. So he’s speaking into a debate there and, obviously, living that debate as well. The other thought that strikes me as I look at this statement is, that while not every Muslim today out there in the Muslim communities around the world will necessarily know the writings of Abu Hanifa or know his words, Nevertheless, his school of thought is a very significant school and through subsequent writers in Hanafite law school, he still carries a great influence on on Muslims today.


So it’s important to study him and to understand the kinds of things he’s saying about the Quran. So let’s hold his ideas in our mind as we go to a second statement about the Quran. Now this is a much more popular modern statement. It’s taken from a website, written by an unknown author, uploaded to the islamonline.netwebsite, so this is a modern statement giving another perspective on the Quran. What does this writer say?


How does this writer view the Quran? Well, he writes, before the reader begins to study the Quran, he or she must realize that, unlike all other writings, this is a unique book with a supreme author, an eternal message and a universal relevance. Its contents are not confined to a particular theme or style, but contains the foundations for an entire system of life, covering a whole spectrum of issues, which range from specific articles of faith and commandments to general moral teachings, rights and obligations, crime and punishment, personal and public law, and a host of other private and social concerns. Now the first statement we we read was written in the middle of the 700. This statement was written in the early 21st century, a big distance in time.


How are they different? Think about those two statements and compare and contrast the Muslim views of the Quran as articulated in the previous slides with Christian views of the Bible. So there’s 2 tasks there, so stop the recording, think about how those two Muslim statements complement each other and contrast with each other, if you feel there is a contrast. And secondly, do a contrast of analysis with between those statements and views of the bible among Christians. Now we’re staying on Muslim views, and, of course, the Quran is believed by Muslims to be the result of a set of experience that Mohammed had during his lifetime in Mecca, in a cave outside the city of Mecca.


So, again, let’s listen to the account in the hadith collections of Muhammad’s experiences in that cave where Muslims believe he received revelations which became the Quran. What actually happened in the cave? Well, this is the account that Muslims accept as historical. It’s presented in the great hadith collection of, the collector, al Bukhari. He died in 870, al Bukhari, and he was one of the great six collectors of traditions in, Sunni Islam, and his collection is called the Sahir, which means the sound collection, the reliable collection.


We’ll talk more about the hadith in a later lecture. For now, let’s listen to what Abu Dhabi’s work, the Sahih, has to say about Mohammed’s experiences in the cave. As you listen, I want you to be thinking about the concept of revelation in the Bible as well. So as we listen to the account in the Sahih al Bukhari of Muhammad receiving the Quran, think to yourself how that compares and contrasts with biblical accounts of prophets receiving divine revelation. The account begins, narrated Asia.


Aisha was Muhammad’s wife, so she is the source of this account. The commencement of the divine inspiration to Allah’s apostle, that’s Mohammed, was in the form of good dreams which came true like bright daylight, and then the love of seclusion was bestowed upon him. He used to go in seclusion in the cave of Hira where he used to worship continuously for many days before his desire to see his family. He used to take with him the journey food for the stay and then come back to his first wife, Khadija, to take his food likewise again till suddenly the truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hera. The angel came to him and asked him to read.


The prophet replied, I do not know how to read. The prophet added, the angel caught me forcefully and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and again asked me to read and I replied, I do not know how to read. A small comment at this stage, the translation of read could also be translated as recite. It comes from the Arabic verb, which means both read and recite.


This translator has decided to translate it as read, but it could also be translated as recite. Continuing on, thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and again asked me to read, but again I replied, I do not know how to read. Thereupon, he caught me for the 3rd time and pressed me and then released me and said, read in the name of your Lord who has created has created man from a clot. Read and your lord is the most generous.


Now those words are found in verses 1, 2, and 3 of the Surah 96, chapter 96 of the Quran. And they’re believed to be the first words that Mohammed received. Continuing on, then Allah’s apostle returned with the inspiration and with his heart beating severely. Then he went to Khadija bint Hawaylid, his first wife, and said, cover me. Cover me.


They covered him till his fear was over, and after that, he told her everything that had happened and said, I fear that something may happen to me. Khadija replied, never, by Allah. Allah will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously, and assist the deserving calamity afflicted ones. So I’d like you to think about that and think of parallels with prophetic revelation in the Old Testament and the New Testament.


Think of points of distinction. How are they similar? How are they distinctive? And in those statements, we have the beginnings of Muslim statements about the Quran, its inception and how it’s perceived. A very good source for comparative studies and apologetics on this topic, is the book, the the bible and the Quran, a question of integrity by Stephen Masood.


A copy of this is held by the CIU library, and I’d encourage you to refer to that for a comparative discussion of views of revelation between Islam and Christianity. Well, welcome back to our course on understanding the Quran. We’re going to continue on with the, first lecture topic that is the Quran text and translation. And, this time we’re going to address what is a quite a controversial issue in some quarters, and that is the issue of the variant readings of the Quran. Variant readings.


Now on the screen at the moment, we have, a a view of a book that was written, by a Muslim scholar by the name of Ahmed Ali Al Imam, and it deals with the variant readings of the Quran. This topic has attracted a lot of attention from both Muslim and non Muslim scholars, and, non Muslim scholars use, they taken often taken approach which questions the variant readings in terms of some of the standard, claims of of of Islam about the Quran being an unchanged text since the time of Mohammed. We’ll look more at that as we go through these slides. Let’s first briefly talk about the standard view about the actual compilation of the Quranic text. If we look at the hadith accounts, which we encountered earlier, they tell us that the first official collection of the Quran took place under the first caliph, Abu Bakr.


When Mohammed died in 632, he was replaced as head of the Islamic community by his close associate, Abu Bakr, who was already an old man. He served as the first caliph or head of the Islamic community for 2 years, and Islamic tradition tells us that during those 2 years, the first collection of the Koranic text occurred bringing together records from diverse materials from writings on camel bone, writings on pieces of wood, and various materials. Now if that first collection actually took place, it’s likely that it was distributed to different cities in the, Islamic empire, in the growing Islamic empire. And as time went by, little differences occurred in the records of the Koranic text in the different cities, and that led to some difference of opinion among Muslims as to certain words and phrases in the Quranic record. So in around 650, according to this traditional view, the 3rd caliph, Uthman, he had an official collection made during his reign.


And Muslims believe that that official collection in 650 is what we find today in the Quran that we can obtain in many outlets in our cities and towns. Nevertheless, further, changes took place to some extent because the Arabic language of that period wasn’t in its final form in terms of its alphabet. It hadn’t finalized certain dots and dashes and other ways that distinguish some Arabic letters from others. And so after the reign of Uthman and after that first collection, there was ongoing debate about certain words and phrases. And the famous Abu Bakr ibn Mujahid, who died in 936, he wrote a book which officially identified what became known as the 7 official readings of the Quran, which allows for minor differences with certain words, different parts of the quranic text.


Now that’s the official account, and one does get challenges to that official account coming from various quarters. But what I’d like to do for the moment as we go through through the slides is think further, about the different approaches to this question. We’ll begin by looking at other Muslim statements. Let’s consider the Hadith accounts themselves. What do they tell us about the collection of the quranic text?


I’m going to be drawing on this book, by William Goldsack called selections from Mohammedan traditions, a link to which is provided on the Moodle page for this course. Now what Goldsack did was he selected traditions from the big collections, and he compiled them into a a volume. So he’s not by any means the author of these. He’s merely a collector, a reporter of established traditions. Now one of the, accounts that Goldsack draws from, the big collections of traditions relates to the question as to whether the Quran existed in textual compiled form during the life of Mohammed.


And citing from Gold sack, he gives a text, a a a a hadith account, which says it’s related from ibn Umar that the apostle of God forbid traveling with the Quran towards the land of an enemy. That’s drawn from Muslim and Bukhari, 2 of the greatest collections of hadith. And similarly, in another account drawn from the collection of of Muslim, that’s the name of the collector, Muslim, in another tradition, it runs do not travel with the Quran for I cannot protect it from being taken by the enemy. Now these two Hadith accounts seem to suggest that the Quran existed as a volume during the life of Mohammed, which is at odds with the established view that the Quran wasn’t collected until the lifetime of Abu Bakr, who followed Mohammed. Further on, Muslim and Bukhary, the 2 great Sunni collectors of traditions, they point to variations in reading occurring during the lifetime of Mohammed and being accepted by him.


Let’s read this account. It’s related from that he said, I heard a man reciting the Quran, and I heard the prophet reciting differently from it. Then I brought him to the prophet and informed him, and I perceived in his face signs of displeasure. Then he said, both of you are right. Therefore, do not contradict each other.


For verily, those who were before you differed and were destroyed. Now that tradition is drawn from the great collection by Abu Dhabi, and it seems to suggest that Mohammed was willing to accept some slight variations on the Koranic record himself. Similarly, in another account that GoldSec presents before us, it’s recorded that Uthman instructed Abdullah ibn Zubayr, Sayed ibn al-‘As, and Abdullah ibn al Harith to assist Sayed ibn Thabit in collecting the authoritative text of the Quran, specifying that where they differed on a detail of the text, that particular word or phrase should be recorded in the Qureshi dialect. Now the Quraish were the dominant tribe, Mohammed’s tribe, in Mecca. So in other words, if there was any difference of opinion among the early Muslims about the meaning of a word or phrase or a detail, they had to follow the dialect of the Quraish, namely the dialect of Mohammed.


Staying on Muslim perspectives on this view, let’s listen to, the writing of a couple of Indonesian sources. One is by a writer by the name of Shalih, and he writes a book about these seven readings. And the other one is drawn from the official Indonesian government translation of the Quran that was published in 1974, beginning with Shaliha. Shaliha shaliha considers how to categorize different readings if the Quran has variant readings. In other words, if the Quran has some words and phrases where there are variant readings, how can they be categorized?


Well, this Indonesian writer draws on the classic writer, Aljazari, to say that there are 6 categories of variant readings, some that are firm, some that are famous, some that are anomalous, some that are contrived, some that are interpolated, and are solitary readings. Now that gives you a kind of hierarchy of, I suppose, acceptability. Firm being the variant readings that are most reliable and solitary readings being those that are questioned. And he also quotes another classical scholar by the name of Ibrahim Uthwa Alaud who said that the 7 readings take account of and allow for Arabic dialectal differences. 2nd, that the 7 readings reflect dialectal differences absorbed by the language of the Quraish, which thus emerged as the language of unification.


In other words, when we think of the variant readings of the Quran, Muslims have a way of dealing with the variant readings by categorizing them, but by accepting that there can be certain little differences in articulation of different words and phrases, providing they fit within this system of 7 readings. Shalihah argues that there are two reasons for the emergence of the Kira art. First, the script of the Quran itself based on the authentic edition written by the companions, namely Mohammed’s friends, whose writing skills could not be considered as among the best with the result that sometimes written errors occurred. And second, differences in cause variant readings to emerge. Now this is how Muslims go about Muslim scholars, especially, go about dealing with the existence of the variant readings.


It should be said that most Muslims, ordinary Muslims, don’t really know about the variant readings. It’s it’s a study that is scholars Islamic scholars talk about, that most ordinary Muslims in in the mosques and in the street, they’re not aware of the whole issue of the variant readings. What about non Muslim scholars? How do they deal with the question of the variant readings? Well, Adrian Brockett is, a British scholar who, wrote a, a thesis, his PhD thesis, which was, which appeared in 1988.


And he considered 2 of the systems of variant readings, and he compared them. As we saw, there there were originally 7 variant 7 systems of variant readings allowed, but only 2 of them have really survived today. And we tend to find one system that’s predominant in North Africa out in Algeria and Morocco and Tunisia, and the other system that’s predominant pretty much everywhere else in the Muslim world. Now Adrian Brockett compared those two systems, asking the question, well, how different are they, and how significant are the differences? And we’ll come back to him in a moment.


But the existence of variant readings raises the question, what about a critical addition? We see in the Christian tradition that, it’s easy to find a critical edition of the Bible, which contains the biblical text in the center of the page. And in the margins, there are, words and phrases, where there is some debate about the exact original word. That’s a critical addition. Now the existence of variant readings in Islam allows for the idea of a critical edition of the Quran to be made, but so far that has not been made because the existence of the variant readings is something that’s kept among the scholars and does not circulate among the general Islamic public.


So it’s left to non Muslim scholars to try and produce a critical edition of the Quran, and there’ve been several attempts by people like Bergstrasse, a German scholar, Arthur Jeffrey, an Australian scholar, Alfred Welch in the United States. But while they’ve made movement in that direction, it’s never really come to fruition. Coming back to Adrian Brockett, he considers the differences between the huffs and the variant reading systems. Huffs and are the 2 surviving systems of variant readings, the 2 of the 7 that have survived today. The Huff system is predominant in most of the Islamic world.


The wash system is predominant in North Africa. And he says, well, basically, there are vocalic differences there. That means sound differences. There are graphic differences. That means there are writing differences, and he analyzes them.


And he really concludes as follows. He he is not a skeptic in the way that some non Muslim scholars are. He writes, many orientalists who see the Quran as only a written document might think that in the graphic differences can be found significant clues about the early history of the Quran text. If Uthman issued a definitive written text, how can such graphic differences be explained? They might ask.


For Muslims who see the Quran as an oral as well as a written text, however, these differences are simply readings, certainly important, but no more so than readings involving, for instance, find differences in assimilation or in vigor of pronouncing the hamza. Rocket is not a skeptic. He he accepts the differences at face value as being insignificant in the overall scheme of things. He does not see the existence of these variant readings as undermining the standard Islamic claims about the Quran, whereas some non Muslim scholars see the existence of variant readings as representing a fundamental challenge to standard Islamic claims about the Quran and is pointing back to much bigger differences. You can read more about, online.


But let’s turn our attention to doctor Keith Small, who produced a recent PhD thesis in which he addressed the whole question of textual criticism and Quran manuscripts. This was a very interesting study in which doctor Small considered the history of textual criticism in the biblical context, he took the methods of textual criticism in the biblical context and applied it to a study of 20 or so early Quran manuscripts. His conclusions were as follows. Examining the New Testament, he said that the New Testament having a wider range of variants shows a lack of active standardization of the text, a lack of organized suppression of variant texts. In other words, within the biblical tradition, within the Christian tradition, variants have been preserved and kept for posterity.


Whereas, he concludes, for the Quran, one form of the text has been kept extremely well, but the process for keeping this form of text required destruction and continued suppression of variant texts. With initial and repeated editing and improvement of the remaining text over 300 years to make the orthography of the Quran a complete phonetic system. In other words, in the Christian tradition, variants of the biblical text have been preserved and studied and examined and made available to the general Christian public. Whereas in the Islamic case, variants of the Koranic text have been suppressed, and there has been an ongoing attempt to standardize the Koranic text to eliminate variation, quite a different tradition. This topic is a big topic.


It’s, an interesting topic to in terms of preparing an assignment. And, you may well wish to prepare your assignment around this topic. And the purpose of this lecture is to give you an introduction, but much more needs to be said and read about it, of course. I I would like you to consider whether the existence of variant readings of the Quran undermines the Islamic claim that the Quran has not been altered in a single respect since the lifetime of Mohammed. Also, it’s worth considering whether the standard Islamic claims about the status of the Quran significantly are significantly different from Christian views about the bible.


And to conclude, let us move back to Koranic perspectives and refer to the hadith in some in examining some interesting perspectives on the Koranic text recorded in the Hadith. These again are found within William Goldsack’s book where we read that the Quran is seen as serving as an intercessor on the day of resurrection. We also read that memorizing Surah al Baqarah, that’s the second chapter of the Quran, the longest, memorizing that chapter or surah is a blessing and neglecting it is a grief, giving special status to one particular chapter. We also read from the the hadith accounts presented by Goldsack that surah 2256, that means chapter 2 verse 256, is supposedly the greatest verse of the Quran. Surahs 1112 are also especially important.


Also, Surahs 20, 92, and 96 are important, as are surahs 113 and 114. So these haditha counts give particular weighting to those particular Koranic chapters, chapter 2, chapter 1, chapter 112, chapter 20, chapter 92, chapter 90 6, chapter 113 and 114. And finally, in an interesting hadith account presented by Goldsack, there seems to be a suggestion that the physical text of the Quran, the actual text itself, had magical properties. Golczyk presents this hadith account, which says it’s related from Uqba ibn Amir that he said, I heard the apostle of god say, if the Quran were placed in a leavened skin and cast into the fire, it would not be burned.