Examining Ibn Masud’s reaction to Qur’an preservation efforts

Examining Ibn Masud’s reaction to Qur’an preservation efforts

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله وحده و الصلاة و السلام على من لا نبي بعده و على آله و أصحابه أجمعين

Ibn Mas’ud’s reaction to efforts regarding Qur’an preservation during Uthman’s time has been a subject of interest to orientalists and missionaries. In this article we shall put the lies on the issue in coffin.

Firstly, you need to study description of efforts during Uthman’s time regarding Qur’an preservation. You find that HERE.

Ibn Masud’s reaction:

Let’s first study the narration that shows Ibn Mas’ud’s reaction to establish what his grievances were.

In Jami’ Tirmidhi, ‘Ubaydullah bin ‘Abdullah is recorded to have said:

“Abdullah bin Mas’ud disliked Zaid bin Thabit copying the Musahif, and he said: ‘O you Muslim people! Avoid copying the Mushaf and recitation of this man. By Allah! When I accepted Islam he was but in the loins of a disbelieving man’–meaning Zaid bin Thabit–and it was regarding this that Abdullah bin Mas’ud said:

‘O people of Al-Iraq! Keep the Musahif that are with you, and conceal them. For indeed Allah said: And whoever conceals something, he shall come with what he concealed on the Day of Judgement. So meet Allah with the Musahif.'” (Jami’ Tirmidhi, hadith 3104)

Note: Above translation is taken from Acts-17 Ministry’s blog. Its significance will be discussed in while. Hold your breath!

What were Ibn Mas’ud’s grievances?

1- Seemingly Ibn Mas’ud’ first grievance was on him being left out of the noble task and Zaid bin Thabit, who was definitely much younger to him, being made the head of the committee assigned with the task.

2- The fact that he was being asked to give up his Mushaf and adopt one prepared by the committee headed by Zaid bin Thabit.

In Mustadrak al-Hakim we read that when Abu Musa al-Ash’ari and Huzayfa bin Yaman tried to persuade him to give up his personal manuscript, he said:

“By Allah I will not hand this manuscript over to them. Allah’s Messenger –may Allah bless him- personally taught me more than seventy surahs and now I should hand this (manuscript) over to them? By Allah, I will not give it to them!” (Mustadrak al-Hakim, Hadith 2896. Classified as Sahih by al-Hakim and al-Dhahbi)

In essence the grievance was simply about being asked to hand over his personal manuscript and this aggravated further when he found he was to do it in favor of the Mushaf prepared by someone much younger to him. Reading this, one must consider Ibn Mas’ud’s own grand stature.

Simply Zaid’s being in charge of the endeavor could have not sparked such a strong reaction as we know Ibn Mas’ud did not show any anger when Zaid was made the in charge of a similar task during Abu Bakr’s time. The demand of giving up his personal manuscript was the real issue.

There was no difference in the text:

There was no difference on the actual text between Ibn Mas’ud’s manuscript and the official one. This is known because.

1- Zaid bin Thabit undertook a similar task during Abu Bakr’s time and Ibn Mas’ud never raised his eye-brows then.

2- After Zaid had completed the work during Uthman’s time, he compared the mushaf prepared then with the suhuf prepared during Abu Bakr’s time. And he testified;

“I compared the Mushaf with those manuscripts; they did not differ in anything.” (Mushkil al-Athar, Hadith 2645)

This leads us to logical conclusion that Ibn Mas’ud mushaf had no fundamental textual difference with the official mushaf.

The actual reason of grievance has just been described above.

Why was Ibn Mas’ud asked to give up his Mushaf?

This brings us to the question, as to why was Ibn Mas’ud asked to give up his Mushaf? Answer to this question is already given in my paper on Uthman’s efforts regarding Qur’an preservation i.e. personal masahif (manuscripts) did not take into account all the sanctioned readings at certain instances in the Qur’an.

Personal Masahif prepared by great scholars like Ibn Masud and that too directly learnt from the Prophet –may Allah bless him- were never wrong and could never be disputed with, but there is no denying that they could not encompass all the sanctioned variants. And Uthman wanted them to be destroyed only to avoid potential trouble as all sanctioned readings were already preserved in the officially prepared Masahif.

As this idea rests on the Seven Ahruf thing, Christian missionaries have tried to counter this by alluding to large scale differences of interpretations about Seven Ahruf and that Ibn Masud’s mushaf did not allegedly have three surahs (i.e. no. 1, 113 & 114).

As to Seven Ahruf, in-sha’Allah a paper with extensive discussion on the subject is in the pipeline that will kill the misconceptions about it. And the no. of surahs in Ibn Masud’s manuscript will be discussed in full in another forthcoming article dedicated to the subject.

Due to the complexity of the issues and the fact that things are interrelated I have but no option except to refer the readers back to earlier articles or ask to them to wait for forthcoming work.

Did Ibn Masud accuse Companions of deceit in reading Qur’an?

Lately we have seen Christian missionaries using a certain report from Ibn Sa’d’s Tabaqat al-Kubra, sometimes referred to as Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir.

They present the narration like this;

— Ibn Masud does not think highly of today’s Quran, the one collected by Zaid. In comparing himself to Zaid, he says:

“The people have been guilty of deceit in the reading of the Qur’an. I like it better to read according to the recitation of him (Prophet) whom I love more than that of Zayd Ibn Thabit. By Him besides Whom there is no god! I learnt more than seventy surahs from the lips of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, while Zayd Ibn Thabit was a youth, having two locks and playing with the youth.” (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol. 2, p.444) –

This is wrong translation. Translation should actually be;

“So conceal the manuscripts! I like it better to read according to the recitation of him (Prophet) whom I love more than that of Zayd Ibn Thabit. By Him besides Whom there is no god! I learnt more than seventy surahs from the lips of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, while Zayd Ibn Thabit was a youth, having two locks and playing with the youth.”

Allah knows what has lead to the addition of the words “in the reading of Qur’an” in the translation given by missionaries. See the actual Arabic text below and decide for yourself;

فَغَلَّوُا الْمَصَاحِفَ. فَلأَنْ أَقْرَأَ عَلَى قِرَاءَةِ مَنْ أُحِبُّ أَحَبَّ إِلَيَّ مِنْ أَنْ أَقْرَأَ عَلَى قِرَاءَةِ زَيْدِ بْنِ ثابت. فو الذي لا إِلَهَ غَيْرُهُ لَقَدْ أَخَذْتُ مِنْ فِيِّ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – بِضْعًا وَسَبْعِينَ سُورَةً. وَزَيْدُ بْنُ ثَابِتٍ غُلامٌ لَهُ ذُؤَابَتَانِ يَلْعَبُ مَعَ الْغِلْمَانِ

So the translation given by missionaries makes “ghalla” to mean “deceit” while the basic meaning of the word and the one intended here is “to hide/conceal.” Following are my evidences for this.

1- In the similar report in Jami’ Tirmidhi wording is;

قَالَ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مَسْعُودٍ: ” يَا أَهْلَ العِرَاقِ اكْتُمُوا المَصَاحِفَ الَّتِي عِنْدَكُمْ وَغُلُّوهَا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَقُولُ: {وَمَنْ يَغْلُلْ يَأْتِ بِمَا غَلَّ يَوْمَ القِيَامَةِ} فَالقُوا اللَّهَ بِالمَصَاحِفِ

Abdullah bin Mas’ud said: ‘O people of Al-Iraq! Keep the Musahif that are with you, and conceal them. For indeed Allah said: And whoever conceals something, he shall come with what he concealed on the Day of Judgement. So meet Allah with the Musahif.'”(Jami’ Tirmidhi, Hadith 3104)

Mark this, this is the translation they themselves gave and here “ghalla” and all its forms have been translated as “conceal”.

Also note at the end the narration says, “Meet Allah with the masahif” now if “ghalla” is translated as “deceit” then what would the whole thing mean?

2- In Kitab al-Masahif of Ibn Abi Dawud Khumayr bin Malik says:

سَمِعْتُ ابْنَ مَسْعُودٍ يَقُولُ: ” إِنِّي غَالٌّ مُصْحَفِي، فَمَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ أَنْ يَغُلَّ مُصْحَفًا فَلْيَغْلُلْ، فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَقُولُ: {وَمَنْ يَغْلُلْ يَأْتِ بِمَا غَلَّ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ}

“I heard Ibn Masud saying: I have concealed my Mushaf. Whoever can conceal his mushaf he should conceal it. For Allah says, “And whoever conceals something, he shall come with what he concealed on the Day of Judgement.”” (Kitab al-Masahif, Narration 52)

Now if “ghalla” is to be translated “to deceive” then narration above would make Ibn Masud says, “I have deceived my mushaf.” Why do these missionaries divorce with reason? Reason is not that bad!

There are other forms of the same narration that show “ghalla” can never mean “to deceive” here.

* In all the above discussed narrations Ibn Masud asked people to conceal their manuscripts because they were based on his own personal manuscript, and for his above mentioned grievance he initially reacted this way.

James White at his best- lying!

This is perhaps nothing when we even find them concocting stories on this issue. James White in one his debates with Muslim scholar, Shabir Ally alleged that Ibn Masud was beaten for not giving up his manuscript and he ended up dying for this reason. See the proof in this video. He lied and said he was quoting from Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi’s book, “An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran” whereas it is nowhere to be found in the book. That’s the best they can do!

Did Ibn Masud later agree with Uthman?

We know initially Ibn Masud reacted furiously, but did he later agree with Uthman and rest of the companions? Yes, he did. He might not have given up his personal manuscript but he did agree with the idea behind the scheme of Uthman, made into a reality by the team headed by Zaid bin Thabit.

Ibn Kathir tells us;

“Uthman –may Allah be pleased with him- wrote to him (Ibn Masud) bidding him to follow the Companions in what they had agreed upon due to its benefits, (and because it lead to) unity of opinions and the end of differences. So, he inclined to it and agreed to follow and to give up the opposition –may Allah be pleased with them all.” (al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya 7/217)

Ibn Kathir even goes on to reason that it was only natural for Ibn Masud to agree on such a fundamental issue. He first quotes the following report;

Abdul Rahman bin Yazid said: Abdullah bin Mas’ud entered the mosque in Mina. He asked how many rak’ahs have the Commander of the Faithful (i.e. Uthman) offered in Zuhr salah? People said, “(He offered) four.” Ibn Masud offered four rak’ahs. People asked, “Have you not told us that the Messenger of Allah –may Allah bless him- and Abu Bakr and ‘Umar offered two (in Zuhr prayers at Mina)?” He said, “Indeed and I narrate to you the same now even but I do not like to differ.”

On this Ibn Kathir comments;

“So if Ibn Masud followed Uthman this way even in secondary issues, how much (more willing) he would have been in following him regarding Qur’an and in sticking to the recitation to which he had bound the people.” (al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya 7/217)


There was some initial misunderstanding between the Companions but evidences show it was never about the basic text of the Holy Qur’an, and even that misunderstanding between Ibn Masud and Uthman etc. was later removed –may Allah be pleased with them all! Excitement of missionary haters of Islam is rather pointless.

Indeed Allah knows the best!

Source: Let me Turn the Tables

No. of Surahs in Ubayy’s Mushaf

No. of Surahs in the Mushaf of Ibn Masud

How many Surahs in Ubayy’s Mushaf?

Muslim Studies on Qur’anic Manuscripts

Dated Muslim Texts From 1-72 AH / 622-691 CE: Documentary Evidence For Early Islam