Ibn Umar and ‘Loss of Much of the Qur’an’ Lie

Ibn Umar and ‘Loss of Much of the Qur’an’ Lie

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

 by  Waqar Akbar and Gabriel Keresztes

In this article we take to task the lies and misconceptions about the narration of Ibn ‘Umar quoted by al-Suyuti in al-Itiqan that suggests while so much of the Qur’an has been taken away it is not right for anyone to claim that he has taken the whole of Qur’an.

1. Introduction

Lying about Islam and its fundamentals has become a standard for zealous missionaries such as Sam Shamoun and David Wood.  Most of their blunders and misrepresentations have been exposed over the past decade, which leaves one to wonder why they are still using the same techniques and approaches.  Their academic credentials are without a doubt shady, while their reputation of deception and lies has been following them wherever they go. 

 Taking much of their inspiration from orientalists of the pasts, some sincere (but mistaken) while others with destructive agendas, missionaries have lacked the desire and sincerity to look at Islam from a neutral point of view.  In their thirst for hatred (not giving the other cheek) towards Islam they launched many nonintellectual attacks on the holy book of Islam, the Qur’an.  

In doing so they have scavenged for any kind of vague statements or information (keeping in mind that most of the time they have dealt with translations) to cast doubt on the reliability and integrity of the Qur’an.  Not being able to cope with the fact that the so called Gospels are human forgeries attributed to God, they have turned to the Qur’an in order to escape the embarrassment.  However as we will show beyond the shadow of a doubt Allah has preserved the Qur’an as promised:

“Verily, We have revealed the Reminder (the Quran) and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).” (Quran 15:9) 

A narration from ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar quoted by Hafiz Al-Suyuti (d. 911 A.H.) in his Al-Itqan fi Uloom al-Qur’an has excited many orientalists, missionaries and some other lunatics.

As Sam Shamoun puts it, the translation goes as; 

`Abdullah b. `Umar reportedly said, ‘Let none of you say, “I have got the whole of the Qur’an.” How does he know what all of it is? MUCH OF THE QUR’AN HAS GONE. Let him say instead, “I have got what has survived.”‘ (Jalal al Din `Abdul Rahman b. Abi Bakr al Suyuti, al-Itqan fi `ulum al-Qur’an, Halabi, Cairo, 1935/1354, Volume 2, p. 25) 

 Not only are the meanings that Sam and other people of his club try to superimpose on this narration are totally wrong, this translation is also misleading.  We shall first clarify the real meanings of this narration and then give its rightful translation supported with due reasoning.

2- The true meanings of the narration

To every ardent student of the Qur’anic sciences it is known that there were many verses first revealed as part of the Qur’an and later abrogated.  We have discussed the essence of the idea of abrogation earlier.

Al-Suyuti brings this narration in the section of his work is titled as; “Section forty-seven: About the Abrogating and the Abrogated.”[1]

Likewise it is in the section about abrogation in another work of al-Suyuti.[2]

In Abu ‘Ubayd’s (d. 228 A.H.) work, from which al-Suyuti quotes this, it is the first narration in the chapter titled; “[About] what all was abrogated from the Qur’an after revelation and is not put in the Masahif.”[3]

Most important is the narration quoted by Hafiz Ibn Hajr (d. 852 A.H.) which compliments and fixes the meaning of the report we are discussing. Ibn Hajr writes;

وقد أخرج بن الضريس من حديث بن عمر أنه كان يكره أن يقول الرجل قرأت القرآن كله ويقول إن منه قرآنا قد رفع

Ibn al-Dhurays has narrated a report of Ibn Umar that he used to dislike the person who said, ‘I have recited the whole of the Qur’an.’ He (Ibn Umar) used to say, ‘But (the reality is) a part of the Qur’an has been abrogated.’[4]

This report seals the fact that Ibn Umar’s statement simply refers to what was abrogated from the Qur’an.

Abu Bakr ibn Tayyib Al-Baqilani (d. 403 A.H.) in his amazing work al-Intisar li’l-Qur’an (In Defence of the Qur’an), quotes another narration on the similar lines and then explains the two together. He writes;

ونحوُ روايةِ عبدُ الله بنُ عباسِ عن أبي أنه سمعه وقد قال له رجل: “يا أبا المنذر إني قد جمعت القرآن، فقال له: ما يدريكَ لعله قد سقطَ قرآن كثير فما وُجد بعد”.

And similar is the report of Abdullah bin ‘Abbas from Ubay, that he heard a man said to him; ‘O Abu al-Munzar verily I have gathered (i.e. memorized) the whole of the Qur’an.’ He (Ubay) said to him, ‘He does not know (what the whole of it was) because so much of the Qur’an was abrogated and it was not found afterwards.’[5]

And then explaining it he writes;

“And it is not possible for anyone to claim that he has learnt (all) what was revealed as Qur’an- the abrogating part of it and the abrogated. And their words ‘it was not found afterwards’ (underscore) that we do not find in our day one who has memorized all that was abrogated and whose recitation was given up. And this is something which was bound to happen.” [6]

3. Nothing has been lost of what the Prophet left of the Qur’an

Narrated ‘Abdul ‘Aziz bin Rufai’: Shaddad bin Ma’qil and I entered upon Ibn ‘Abbas. Shaddad bin Ma’qil asked him, “Did the Prophet leave anything (besides the Qur’an)?” He replied. “He did not leave anything except what is between the two bindings (of the Qur’an).” Then we visited Muhammad bin Al-Hanafiyya and asked him (the same question). He replied, “The Prophet did not leave except what is between the bindings (of the Qur’an).”[7]

This hadith is categorical evidence that nothing was lost of the Qur’an because all that the Holy Prophet- peace and blessings of Allah be upon him- left for his people is what was put between the two bindings.

Hafiz Ibn Hajr writes;

“And this chapter is made to refute those who assume that a lot from the Qur’an was lost with the death of those who knew it.”[8]

Al-‘Ayni (d. 855 A.H.) also makes exactly the same point.[9]

Shahabuddin al-Alusi’s (d. 1270 A.H.) comment helps understand the entire issue;

“Verily they (i.e. people of sunnah) have agreed on there being no loss in the Qur’an as is continuously reported like we today find between the two bindings. Yes during the time of (Abu Bakr) al-Sidiq the part which was not reported continuously and was (rather) abrogated was dropped (out of the official Mushaf) … and to this relates that which is reported by Abu ‘Ubayd from Ibn `Umar, who said: ‘None of you should say that he has taken the whole of the Qur’an; how could he know what all of it was! A lot of the Qur’an has passed him by! Let him say instead: ‘I have taken of the Qur’an that which became apparent.”[10]

The above mentioned narration of Sahih Bukhari is very significant. One of the two who said “The Prophet left nothing except what is between the two bindings” was Ibn Abbas and in the narration quoted by Al-Baqilani we find him reporting and listening to the comment of his teacher Ubayy bin Ka’b which is same as that of Ibn Umar.

Connecting the dots we make out that he understood Ubay did not mean to say that some part of the Qur’an that the Prophet had left for the Ummah might have been missed and could not be found anymore by the person claiming to have memorized the whole of it.

It rather shows that Ibn Abbas fully knew that what Ubay referred to was something exclusive to what the Prophet had left for the Ummah as eternal guidance (i.e. it was the abrogated part). And we have already seen that the narration of Ibn ‘Umar quoted by Ibn Hajr on the authority of Ibn al-Dhurays makes the same point very plainly. 

Another significant observation about Bukhari’s narration is that the two who testified for the Qur’anic preservation are Ibn ‘Abbas, the cousin of ‘Ali bin Talib, and Muhammad bin Al-Hanafiyya, the son of ‘Ali bin Abi Talib- may Allah be pleased with them all. Their testimony is quite sufficient to lay to rest any amount of rant by some extreme Shiites who make speculative allegations of Qur’an being tampered to remove verses in favor of ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him. Had this been the case these two close relatives of ‘Ali would have not failed to make a mention of it.

4- Two objections/queries answered

Having explained the narration let us now turn to two possible questions/queries.

4.1 Why Ibn Umar referred the abrogated verses as Qur’an?

Before finding the answer to this question let us have another look at the narration of Ibn al-Dhurays;

“Ibn Umar used to dislike the person who said, ‘I have recited the whole of the Qur’an.’ He (Ibn Umar) used to say, ‘But (the reality is) a part of the Qur’an has been abrogated.”

Very much like our explanation to the narration we are discussing, this report shows that Ibn ‘Umar referred to the abrogated verses as Qur’an. With the clarity in its last words this narration takes away all the rhetoric power of the question and reduces it to a mere query having no ability whatsoever to cast doubts on the validity of the explanation offered. 

Coming back; Dr. Sa’d bin ‘Abdullah al-Humayyid commenting to this narration in his research on Sunan Sa’id bin Mansur says;

“And it appears from the words of Ibn ‘Umar that in his opinion even the abrogated verses could also be called Qur’an after their being abrogated or (they could be so called) by the way what they once were.”[11]

This is understandable given the fact that Qur’an is nothing but the word of Allah and abrogated verses though no more required to be learnt or followed were nevertheless revered due to their divine origin.  In this regard there is, however, one important difference between Ibn ‘Umar and the people of later generation like us. As there is no authority of continuous (mutawatir) reports, we cannot be as certain as him about some abrogated-in-recitation words’ once being a part of the Qur’an.

We may however refer to them as such for academic purposes on the basis of lesser proofs. But for Ibn ‘Umar this was not the condition as he must have listened to some verses from the Prophet in person for which he later learnt that they were abrogated. Therefore, he for himself was too particular about the words that emanated from the Almighty as part of the Qur’an though abrogated afterwards.

Further, it also has an indication of an attitude of extreme care on such matters that involves goodness on one part because this can in a way lead to self-glorification. One might see it akin to the following hadith;

Narrated Abu Bakrah: The Prophet (may peace be upon him) said: “One of you should not say: I fasted the whole of Ramadan, and I prayed during the night in the whole of Ramadan. I do not know whether he disliked the self-praise; or he (the narrator) said: ‘He must have slept a little and taken rest’.”[12]

We can see that even though it is natural that one who would fast as such for the whole month ofRamadan, will break the fasts at night and will also sleep besides standing in late-night prayers, yet an out of the way step is taken in instructing not to make such a claim. The fact that narration of Ibn ‘Umar is in essence similar to this and involves the idea of claim as well; it can help us appreciate the real message in the words of Ibn ‘Umar- may Allah be pleased with him.

4.2 Was “much” of the Qur’an abrogated?

We know the actual text involves the words “qur’an kathir” therefore one may tend to translate it as “much of the Qur’an” with stress on “much.” In fact Sam Shamoun does that and asks “what kind of revelation is this that MUCH (not some) of it consists of verses that have been abrogated?” This may appear to be a very strong point but actually speaks of the lack of proper understanding of the language, something that Sam has been guilty of in all his papers.

The Arabic word “kathir” does not mean “much” in the comparative sense. In the comparative sense it can even be used to mean less than what it is compared to as shown below. Same is the case with abrogation that we are discussing. The abrogated part of the Qur’an was definitely less than what remains.

A simple proof for this assertion is the narration in which Sa’d bin Waqqas asked the Prophet- may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him- about the share of his wealth that he might give away in charity while he feared to die. Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas himself narrated his dialogue with the Holy Prophet –may Allah bless him- on the subject;

قُلْتُ: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، أُوصِي بِمَالِي كُلِّهِ؟ قَالَ: «لاَ» ، قُلْتُ: فَالشَّطْرُ، قَالَ: «لاَ» ، قُلْتُ: الثُّلُثُ، قَالَ: فَالثُّلُثُ، وَالثُّلُثُ كَثِيرٌ

“I said; ‘Should I give two-thirds of my property in charity?’ He said, ‘No.’ I asked, ‘Half?’ He said, ‘No.’ then he added, ‘One-third, and even one-third is much (wal-thuluthu kathir).”[13]

The translator of Sahih Muslim puts the same as;

“He (the Holy Prophet) said: (Yes), one-third, and one-third is quite substantial (wal-thuluthu kathir).”[14]

Certainly one-third is not “much” in the comparative sense of being more than the rest and no person of reason can ever claim that. Just like two thousand years of theological hammering has failed to find logic for “one in three and three in one,” likewise no amount of effort can ever show that “one-third” is “much” in the comparative sense.

Ibn ‘Umar- may Allah be pleased with him- only aimed to highlight the fact that verses of the Qur’an were abrogated and no one should say that they have memorized the whole of the Qur’an (including those verses) as it rests in the guarded tables with Allah.

The Qur’an that we have between the two covers today, the Qur’an given to us by the messenger of God, collected by Abu Bakr and Uthman, is the Qur’an that Allah revealed and decreed to remain as the guiding message for humanity till the Day of Judgment, without any addition, subtraction or alteration.

5- Summary and Conclusion

Ibn Umar- may Allah be pleased with him- only referred to the abrogated part of the Qur’an and his comment in no way suggests of even a single letter of the Qur’an being lost.

Ibn ‘Umar’s other narration quoted by Ibn Hajr on the authority of Ibn al-Dhurays plainly establishes this meaning. 

Abu ‘Ubayd and Al-Suyuti have both placed the narration in the sections about abrogated verses which shows they also understood it likewise. Comments of Al-Baqilani and Al-Alusi also support the same.

The word “kathir” does not mean “much” in the comparative sense.

The rightful translation of the meanings of this narration is;

عن ابن عمر، قال: لا يقولن أحدكم قد أخذت القرآن كله وما يدريه ما كله؟ قد ذهب منه قرآن كثير، ولكن ليقل: قد أخذت منه ما ظهر منه

Ibn `Umar, who said: ‘None of you should say that he has taken the whole of the Qur’an; how could he know what all of it was (before some of it being abrogated)! Substantial part of the Qur’an has passed him by (due to abrogation)! Let him say instead: ‘I have taken of the Qur’an that which (remained and) became apparent (after abrogation).”

Indeed Allah knows the best!

[1] Al-Itiqan fil Uloom al-Quran, Haeya al-Masriya al-‘Aamah lil-Kitab, Egypt 1974 vol.3 p.66, 82-83

[2] Mu’tarik al-Aqran fi Aijaz al-Qur’an, Dar al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, Beirut, 1988 vol.1 p.95

[3] Fada’il al-Qur’an, Dar Ibn Kathir, Damascus, 1995 vol.1 p.320

[4] Fath al-Bari, Dar al-Ma’rifah, Beirut 1379 A.H. vol.9 p.65

[5] Al-Intisar lil-Qur’an, Dar al-Fath/Dar Ibn Hazm, Amman/Beirut, 2001 p.406

[6] Al-Intisar, p.408

[7] Sahih Bukhari, Book 61, Hadith 537

[8] Fath al-Bari, vol.9 p.65

[9] ‘Umdah al-Qari, Dar al-Ahya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, Beirut n.d. vol.20 p.36

[10] Tafsir Ruh al-M’ani , Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyya, Beirut, 1415 A.H. vol.1 p.26

[11] Sunan Sa’id bin Mansur, Dar al-Sami’i, Beirut, 1993 vol.2 p.433 n.2

[12] Sunan Abu Dawud, Hadith 2409

[13] Sahih Bukhari, Book 23, Hadith 383

[14] Sahih Muslim, Book 13, Hadith 3997

Source let me turn the tables