Textual corruption of Surat al-โ€˜Asr?

Textual corruption of Surat al-โ€˜Asr?

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Muslims might be surprised to find that there are different versions of Surat al-โ€˜Asr reported from some of the companions. Anti-Muslim writers cite these narrations as evidence of alleged โ€˜textual corruptionโ€™ in the Quran, but they do not understand the context of these variants or how scholars understood them.

Al-Tabari narrated that Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, recited Surat al-โ€˜Asr with this text:

ูˆูŽุงู„ู’ุนูŽุตู’ุฑู ูˆูŽู†ูŽูˆูŽุงุฆูุจู ุงู„ุฏูŽู‘ู‡ู’ุฑู ุฅู† ุงู„ุฅู†ู’ุณุงู†ูŽ ู„ููŠ ุฎูุณู’ุฑู ูˆุฅู†ู‡ ููŠู‡ ุฅู„ู‰ ุขุฎุฑ ุงู„ุฏู‡ุฑ

By the time and calamities of age! Verily, humanity is in loss and will be so until the end of the age.

Source: Tafsฤซr al-แนฌabarฤซ 103:1

Muslims will notice immediately that this is different from the widely-known standard text we often recite in prayer. Could this mean the original text has been changed or suppressed?

As we know, Allah has promised to protect the textual integrity of the Quran for as long as he wills.

Allah said:

ุฅูู†ูŽู‘ุง ู†ูŽุญู’ู†ู ู†ูŽุฒูŽู‘ู„ู’ู†ูŽุง ุงู„ุฐูู‘ูƒู’ุฑูŽ ูˆูŽุฅูู†ูŽู‘ุง ู„ูŽู‡ู ู„ูŽุญูŽุงููุธููˆู†ูŽ

Verily, We have revealed the remembrance and We will guard over it.

Surat al-Hijr 15:9

In reality, this is not an alternative version of the Quran being narrated by Ali. Rather, it includes his own personal comments as an explanation of the Quranic text, which some narrators may have confused with the actual Quran later on.

It is was not uncommon for senior companions of the Prophet (แนฃ) to include the interpretations they understood in their copies of the Quran.

Al-Baqillani writes:

ูˆูƒุงู† ู…ู†ู‡ู… ูŠุนู†ูŠ ุงู„ุตุญุงุจุฉ ู…ู† ูŠู‚ุฑุฃ ุงู„ุชุฃูˆูŠู„ ู…ุน ุงู„ุชู†ุฒูŠู„

Among the companions are those who recited the interpretation alongside the revelation.

Source: al-Intiแนฃฤr lil-Qurโ€™ฤn 1/351

The companions were able to do this because they were the most well-versed and knowledgeable of the Quran. They could easily distinguish the proper text from any of their notes or comments.

Ibn al-Jazari writes:

ูƒูŽุงู†ููˆุง ุฑูุจูŽู‘ู…ูŽุง ูŠูุฏู’ุฎูู„ููˆู†ูŽ ุงู„ุชูŽู‘ูู’ุณููŠุฑูŽ ูููŠ ุงู„ู’ู‚ูุฑูŽุงุกูŽุฉู ุฅููŠุถูŽุงุญู‹ุง ูˆูŽุจูŽูŠูŽุงู†ู‹ุง ู„ูุฃูŽู†ูŽู‘ู‡ูู…ู’ ู…ูุญูŽู‚ูู‘ู‚ููˆู†ูŽ ู„ูู…ูŽุง ุชูŽู„ูŽู‚ูŽู‘ูˆู’ู‡ู ุนูŽู†ู ุงู„ู†ูŽู‘ุจููŠูู‘ ุตูŽู„ูŽู‘ู‰ ุงู„ู„ูŽู‘ู‡ู ุนูŽู„ูŽูŠู’ู‡ู ูˆูŽุณูŽู„ูŽู‘ู…ูŽ ู‚ูุฑู’ุขู†ู‹ุง ููŽู‡ูู…ู’ ุขู…ูู†ููˆู†ูŽ ู…ูู†ูŽ ุงู„ูุงู„ู’ุชูุจูŽุงุณู ูˆูŽุฑูุจูŽู‘ู…ูŽุง ูƒูŽุงู†ูŽ ุจูŽุนู’ุถูู‡ูู…ู’ ูŠูŽูƒู’ุชูุจูู‡ู ู…ูŽุนูŽู‡ู

It is possible they included explanations in their recitations, to clarify and elucidate, as they had verified what they received from the Prophet (แนฃ) of the Quran. They were not in danger of confusing the text. It is also possible that some of them would write the explanation alongside the text.

Source: al-Nashr fฤซ al-Qirฤโ€™ฤt al-โ€˜Ashr 1/32

Hence, this is how the variants of Surat al-โ€˜Asr reported by Al-Tabari and others should be understood. Makki ibn Abi Talib commented specifically on the narration attributed to Ali, saying:

ูˆู‡ุฐู‡ ู‚ุฑุงุกุฉ ู…ุฎุงู„ูุฉ ู„ู„ู…ูุตู’ุญู ุงู„ู…ุฌู…ุน ุนู„ูŠู‡ ูู„ุง ูŠุฌูˆุฒ ู„ุฃุญุฏ ุฃู† ูŠู‚ุฑุฃ ุจู‡ุง ููŠุฎุงู„ู ุงู„ุฅุฌู…ุงุน ูˆุฅู†ู‘ู…ูŽุง ู‡ูŠ ุนู„ู‰ ู…ุนู†ู‰ ุงู„ุชูุณูŠุฑ

This recitation conflicts with the agreed upon written Quran (mushaf). It is not permissible for anyone to recite it in prayer, as it contradicts the consensus. Indeed, it was only meant as an explanation.

Source: al-Hidฤyah ilรก Bulลซgh al-Nihฤyah 12/8425

The same holds true for variant texts narrated from other companions. Abu Hayyan mentions some of these attributed to Ibn Masโ€™ud, may Allah be pleased with him, and then he says:

ูˆูŽู‡ูŽุฐูู‡ู ุงู„ู’ู‚ูุฑูŽุงุกูŽุฉู ู…ูุฎูŽุงู„ูููŽุฉูŒ ู„ูุณูŽูˆูŽุงุฏู ุงู„ู’ู…ูุตู’ุญูŽูู ุงู„ู’ู…ูุฌู’ู…ูŽุนู ุนูŽู„ูŽูŠู’ู‡ู ููŽูŠูŽู†ู’ุจูŽุบููŠ ุฃูŽู†ู’ ูŠูุฌู’ุนูŽู„ูŽ ุชูŽูู’ุณููŠุฑู‹ุง ูˆูŽูƒูŽุฐูŽุง ู…ูŽุง ูˆูŽุฑูŽุฏูŽ ุนูŽู†ู’ู‡ู ูˆูŽุนูŽู†ู’ ุบูŽูŠู’ุฑูู‡ู ู…ูู…ูŽู‘ุง ุฎูŽุงู„ูŽููŽ ุณูŽูˆูŽุงุฏูŽ ุงู„ู’ู…ูุตู’ุญูŽูู

These recitations conflict with the agreed upon written Quran, so they should be understood as explanations. Such was narrated from him and others that conflict with the written copy.

Source: al-Baแธฅr al-Muแธฅฤซt 1/260

The general rule, then, is that these variant texts might be helpful in understanding and interpreting the Quranic text, but they are not considered divine revelation. They may not be recited in ritual prayer or as a voluntary act of worship.

Ibn al-Jazari writes:

ู…ูู†ู’ู‡ู ู…ูŽุง ูŠูุฎูŽุงู„ููู ุฑูŽุณู’ู…ูŽ ุงู„ู’ู…ูุตู’ุญูŽูู ููŽู‡ูŽุฐูŽุง ู„ูŽุง ุดูŽูƒูŽู‘ ูููŠ ุฃูŽู†ูŽู‘ู‡ู ู„ูŽุง ูŠูŽุฌููˆุฒู ู‚ูุฑูŽุงุกูŽุชูู‡ู ู„ูŽุง ูููŠ ุงู„ุตูŽู‘ู„ูŽุงุฉู ูˆูŽู„ูŽุง ูููŠ ุบูŽูŠู’ุฑูู‡ูŽุง

Among what differs from the written Quran, there is no doubt that it is not permissible to recite it, neither in prayer nor at any other time.

Source: al-Nashr fฤซ al-Qirฤโ€™ฤt al-โ€˜Ashr 1/32

And Al-Razi commented specifically on the narration attributed to Ali, saying:

ุฑููˆููŠูŽ ูˆูŽุงู„ู’ุนูŽุตู’ุฑู ูˆูŽู†ูŽูˆูŽุงุฆูุจู ุงู„ุฏูŽู‘ู‡ู’ุฑู ุฅูู„ูŽู‘ุง ุฃูŽู†ูŽู‘ุง ู†ูŽู‚ููˆู„ู ู‡ูŽุฐูŽุง ู…ููู’ุณูุฏูŒ ู„ูู„ุตูŽู‘ู„ูŽุงุฉู ููŽู„ูŽุง ู†ูŽู‚ููˆู„ู ุฅูู†ูŽู‘ู‡ู ู‚ูŽุฑูŽุฃูŽู‡ู ู‚ูุฑู’ุขู†ู‹ุง ุจูŽู„ู’ ุชูŽูู’ุณููŠุฑู‹ุง

It is narrated as, โ€˜By the time and the calamities of the age,โ€™ but we say this invalidates the prayer. We do not say it is part of the Quran, rather it is only an explanation.

Source: Tafsฤซr al-Rฤzฤซ 103:1

In sum, we may find variations of the Quranic text narrated by some of the companions, but these variants were not intended to be part of the Quran. They were explanations, interpretations, and clarifications they included in their personal copies. The written Quran we have today is agreed upon by all Muslims and there is no doubt about the veracity of the text.