Verses of Surah Ahzab: Lost, abrogated, or what?

๐•๐ž๐ซ๐ฌ๐ž๐ฌ ๐จ๐Ÿ ๐’๐ฎ๐ซ๐š๐ก ๐€๐ก๐ณ๐š๐›: ๐‹๐จ๐ฌ๐ญ, ๐š๐›๐ซ๐จ๐ ๐š๐ญ๐ž๐ ๐จ๐ซ ๐ฐ๐ก๐š๐ญ?

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


ุจุณู… ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุงู„ุฑุญู…ู† ุงู„ุฑุญูŠู… ุงู„ุญู…ุฏ ู„ู„ู‡ ูˆุญุฏู‡ ูˆ ุงู„ุตู„ุงุฉ ูˆ ุงู„ุณู„ุงู… ุนู„ู‰ ู…ู† ู„ุง ู†ุจูŠ ุจุนุฏู‡ ูˆ ุนู„ู‰ ุขู„ู‡ ูˆ ุฃุตุญุงุจู‡ ุฃุฌู…ุนูŠู†

Another issue often raised about Qurโ€™anic preservation is about the total number of verses in Surah Ahzab i.e. the 33rd chapter of the Holy Qurโ€™an. In the established Qurโ€™anic text and in all manuscripts ever known in history the total number of verses has been 73 but few narrations give a notion contrary to this.

1- The narrations on this account are found in many collections like that of Ahmad, Hakim, Baihaqi, Ibn Hibban, Nasai [his Sunan al-Kubra], Tiyalsi, and others. And from there it has been quoted by Ibn Kathir, Qurtubi, and in Kanzul Ummal etc.

The narration:

2- The narration often quoted on this issue comes through Ubayy bin Kaโ€™b (RA), a famous companion of the Prophet (PBUH).

Following is the text of the narration as found in Musnad Ahmad.

ุนู† ุนุงุตู… ุจู† ุจู‡ุฏู„ุฉ ุนู† ุฒุฑ ู‚ุงู„ ู‚ุงู„ ู„ูŠ ุฃุจูŠ ุจู† ูƒุนุจ : ูƒุฃูŠู† ุชู‚ุฑุฃ ุณูˆุฑุฉ ุงู„ุฃุญุฒุงุจ ุฃูˆ ูƒุฃูŠู† ุชุนุฏู‡ุง ู‚ุงู„ ู‚ู„ุช ู„ู‡ ุซู„ุงุซุง ูˆุณุจุนูŠู† ุขูŠุฉ ูู‚ุงู„ ู‚ุท ู„ู‚ุฏ ุฑุฃูŠุชู‡ุง ูˆุฅู†ู‡ุง ู„ุชุนุงุฏู„ ุณูˆุฑุฉ ุงู„ุจู‚ุฑุฉ ูˆู„ู‚ุฏ ู‚ุฑุฃู†ุง ููŠู‡ุง ุงู„ุดูŠุฎ ูˆุงู„ุดูŠุฎุฉ ุฅุฐุง ุฒู†ูŠุง ูุงุฑุฌู…ูˆู‡ู…ุง ุงู„ุจุชุฉ ู†ูƒุงู„ุง ู…ู† ุงู„ู„ู‡ ูˆุงู„ู„ู‡ ุนู„ูŠู… ุญูƒูŠู…

It is narrated from Aasim bin Bahdala, he from Zirr, he said: Ubayy bin Kaโ€™b said to me; โ€œHow much of Surah Ahzab do you recite or how much do you count [its verses to be]?โ€ Zirr said that he replied, โ€œSeventy-three verses.โ€ Ubayy said; โ€œOnly this much, verily I use to see it and it was equal to Surah Baqarah and we used to recite in it, โ€˜Whenever an aged man or aged woman commit fornication stone them as a punishment from Allah and Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.โ€™โ€ (Musnad Ahmad, Hadith 21245)

3- All the collections have almost the same wording. In one collection we have some important additional words. We will allude to that in a while.

The authenticity of the narration:

4- Some scholars have authenticated this narration, some have termed it weak and apparently, it seems that the narration is well established and comes through many routes as it is found in many Hadith collections. Letโ€™s find out the details.

5- The following chart gives the route through which the narration is recorded in various collections;

6- Now there are quite interesting observations to be made here;

a- From Ubayy (RA) only one person, Zirr is reporting this narration. This fact itself makes the case doubtful.

b- From Zirr, two people narrate this. One is Aasim b. Bahdala [Abi al-Najud] and other is Yazid b. Abi Ziyad.

7- From then onwards there are multiple narrators but the point to note here is that scholars who have termed the narration as weak have criticized these two narrators.

a- See the classification of Musnad Ahmad by Shaykh Shuโ€™aib Arnaโ€™ut accompanied by Aadil Murshid and Saโ€™id al-Ham, Al-Resalah publishers Beirut, 1999 vol. 35 p.134

About the narration through Yazid bin Abi Ziyad they say;

โ€œThe chain is Daโ€™if (i.e. weak) due to the weakness of Yazid bin Abi Ziyad.โ€

And about the narration through Aasim they comment;

โ€œThe chain is Daโ€™if (i.e. weak) โ€“ Aasim bin Bahdala โ€“ even if acceptable used to have inadvertences due to bad memory, so he alone cannot be relied upon in reports like this.โ€

b- Similarly Shaykh Abdul Samiโ€™ Abdul Bari al-Saygh in his research and explanation of the narrations from two companions, Jabir bin Samrah and Ubayy bin Kaโ€™b, included in Musnad Ahmad has also criticized both these narrators. Commenting on the narration through Yazid b. Abi Ziyad he says;

โ€œThe narration through this chain is Daโ€™if (i.e. weak) because of the presence of Yazid b. Abi Yazid.โ€ (p. 441)

And commenting about the status of the narration through Aasim b. Bahdala he says;

โ€œThe narration through this chain is Daโ€™if (i.e. weak) for it includes Aasim and he is [otherwise] acceptable but used to have inadvertences.โ€ (p. 439)

The original title of the work is โ€˜Marwiyat al-Sahabayn Jalilayn Jabir bin Samrah wa Ubayy bin Kaโ€™b fi Musnad al-Imam Ahmadโ€™ published by Ummul Qura University, 1988 vol. 1

c- Even classical scholars also questioned the authority of this narration.

Hafiz Nuruddin Haythmi (d. 807 A.H.) commented on this report saying;

โ€œIn its chain is Aasim bin Abi al-Najud and he is Daโ€™if (i.e. weak)โ€ (Mawarid az-Zamaan, Hadith 1756)

Similarly, Imam Shahabuddin Ahmad al-Boseri (d. 840 A.H.) in his Ithaf al-Khira al-Mihra 5792 quotes this narration from, al-Tiyalsi; Ibn Hibban and Ahmad bin Muni and says;

โ€œTheir chains depend upon Aasim bin Abi al-Najud and he is Daโ€™if (i.e. weak)โ€

Consider this and have a look at the chart above. We find that the narration is unacceptable anyway.

Other weak narrations to this account:

8- A similar narration from โ€˜Aisha (RA) is reported in al-Ittiqan (cf. Abu โ€˜Ubaidโ€™s Fadhail al-Qurโ€™an H. 700) but it is also extremely Daโ€™if for in its chain is the narrator Ibn Lihiya who is well known to be unreliable. See al-Ittiqan with research by the committee of Markaz Dirasat al-Qurโ€™ania section 47 pub. Saudi Ministry of Islamic publications p.1456

9- In Kanzul Ummal (H. 4550) there is narration through Huzaifa (RA) attributing a similar thing to โ€˜Umar (RA). I could not find its chain of narrators anywhere even though I made an extensive search therefore I consider it no evidence. Moreover, just like the narration from Ubayy (RA) it also makes a mention of the verse on stoning which makes this doubtful. I shall elucidate this point shortly.

Also please note, the narration from โ€˜Aisha (RA) quoted in al-Ittiqan makes no mention of the verse on stoning.

The mention of verse on stoning:

10- The narration through Ubayy bin Kaโ€™b (RA) and the one attributed to โ€˜Umar (RA) also has another problem i.e. of mentioning the verse on stoning among the verses โ€˜taken awayโ€™ (I use this word for a reason, to be clarified in some time. Readers must appreciate the element of suspense in this article :P)

11- Now this is agreed upon by all scholars and is evident from loads of narrations that the placement of verses within surahs was done by the decree of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). This was never done through personal discretion or wild guesses.

Al-Baqilani (d. 403 A.H.) quotes, Ubayy bin Kaโ€™b (RA) himself stated;

ุฑุจู‘ู…ุง ู†ุฒู„ูŽ ุนู„ู‰ ุฑุณูˆู„ – ุตู„ู‰ ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุนู„ูŠู‡ ูˆุณู„ู… – ุงู„ุตุฏุฑู ู…ู† ุงู„ุณูˆุฑ ูุฃูƒุชุจูู‡ุงุŒ ุซู… ูŠู†ุฒู„ ุนู„ูŠู‡ ููŠู‚ูˆู„: “ูŠุง ุฃูุจูŠูู‘ ุงูƒุชุจ ู‡ุฐู‡ ููŠ ุงู„ุณูˆุฑุฉ ุงู„ุชูŠ ูŠูุฐูƒุฑูŽ ููŠู‡ุง ูƒุฐุง ูˆูƒุฐุง”ุŒ ูˆุฑุจู‘ู…ุง ู†ุฒู„ ุนู„ูŠู‡ ูุฃู‚ูู ุญุชู‰ ุฃู†ุธุฑูŽ ู…ุง ูŠู‚ูˆู„ู ุญุชู‰ ูŠุญุฐุฏุซูŽ ุฅู„ูŠู‘ ููŠู‚ูˆู„: “ุชู„ูƒ ุงู„ุขูŠุงุชู ุถุนู‡ุง ููŠ ุณูˆุฑุฉู ูƒุฐุง ูˆูƒุฐุง

โ€œSometimes the beginning of a surah is revealed to the Prophet, so I write it down; then another revelation comes to him so he says, โ€˜Ubayy! Write this down in the surah where such and such is mentioned.โ€™ At other times a revelation comes down to him and I await his instructions, till he informs me of its rightful place.โ€ (al-Intisar lil-Qurโ€™an 1/291)

There are more reports clearly showing that it was the Prophet (PBUH) who told the scribes the exact placement of the verses within the surahs.

12- With this is in mind we must consider the following narrations about the so-called verse on stoning.

a- Kathir bin Salt that: Zaid (b. Thabit) said: ‘I heard the Messenger of Allah say, ‘When a married man or woman commit adultery stone them both (to death)’, (hearing this) Amr said,

ูู‚ุงู„ ุนู…ุฑูˆ : ู„ู…ุง ู†ุฒู„ุช ุฃุชูŠุช ุงู„ู†ุจูŠ ุตู„ู‰ ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุนู„ูŠู‡ ูˆุณู„ู… ูู‚ู„ุช : ุฃูƒุชุจู‡ุง ุŸ ููƒุฃู†ู‡ ูƒุฑู‡ ุฐู„ูƒ

‘When this was revealed I came to Prophet and asked if I could write it, he (the Prophet) disliked it.’ (Mustadrik Al-Hakim, Hadith 8184. Hakim called it Sahih)

The narration is also found is Musnad Ahmad (H. 21636). Shaykh Shuโ€™ain Arnaโ€™ut said: โ€œIts narrators are all trustworthy [and] those of the Sahihayn [i.e. Bukhari & Muslim] except Kathir bin Salt, Nasai narrated from him and he is [also] trustworthy.โ€

b- Also, Kathir bin Salt says that he, Zaid bin Thabit and Marwan bin Hakam were discussing why it is not written in the Qurโ€™anic manuscript and Umar bin Khattab was present with them and listening to their discussion he said he knew it better than them and told them that he came to Messenger of Allah and said:

ูŠุง ุฑุณูˆู„ ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุฃูƒุชุจู†ูŠ ุขูŠุฉ ุงู„ุฑุฌู… ู‚ุงู„ ูุฃุชูŠุชู‡ ูุฐูƒุฑุชู‡ ู‚ุงู„ ูุฐูƒุฑ ุขูŠุฉ ุงู„ุฑุฌู… ู‚ุงู„ ูู‚ุงู„ ูŠุง ุฑุณูˆู„ ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุฃูƒุชุจู†ูŠ ุขูŠุฉ ุงู„ุฑุฌู… ู‚ุงู„ ู„ุง ุงุณุชุทูŠุน ุฐุงูƒ

“‘O Messenger of Allah, let the verse about stoning be written for me.’ He (the Prophet) said, ‘I cannot do this.'” (Sunan Al-Kubra Baihiqi 8/21, Sunan Al-Kubra Nasai Hadith 7148. Albani (in Sahiha 6/412) said Baihaqi pointed to its authenticity)

13- These narrations prove that the Prophet (PBUH) never allowed the words about stoning to be written. When it was never allowed to be written, it entails that its placement was never determined by the Prophet (PBUH). Moreover, there is no evidence of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) reciting it in prayers or otherwise. With these two possibilities ruled out the idea of this verse/wording being part of a certain Surah is rendered dubious. (For the actual status of these words and the reality of the โ€˜verseโ€™ on stoning please see THIS)

This fact supports the contention of the scholars quoted above that the narration is weak and cannot be used as evidence due the illogical assertion about the alleged verse. This is true for the narrations through Ubayy (RA) and the narration quoted in Kanzul Ummal that attributes the same thing to โ€˜Umar (RA).

Does this really question the preservation of the Holy Qurโ€™an?

14- Now do these details and some differences among scholars really question the stability of the Qurโ€™anic text? Not really, for even if in complete oblivion to the criticism on chains of this narration and the rational fact mentioned above, we accept this narration for the sake of argument, it casts no doubt on the veracity of the Muslim claim of Qurโ€™anic infallibility in preservation.

This is so because in that case it simply implies that the verses were abrogated and thus taken away from the memories. Now, why do I say this? I say this because one version of this narration itself clarifies this.

According to Musnad of Abu Dawud al-Tiyalsi (d. 204 A.H.) after giving the wording of the alleged verse, Ubayy (RA).said;

ููŽุฑูููุนูŽ ูููŠู…ูŽุง ุฑูููุนูŽ

โ€œThen it was taken away with what was taken away.โ€ (Musnad al-Tiyalsi, Hadith 542)

Let me also clarify that al-Tiyalsiโ€™s collection is one of the earliest compilations containing this narration.

The idea and scheme of abrogation in the Qurโ€™an is discussed HERE.

15- Ubayy (RA) himself was a member of the twelve-member committee formulated to standardize the Qurโ€™anic text during the time of Usman (RA) and there is no evidence of him trying to get the one verse he remembered into the text (Ibn Abi Dawudโ€™s Al-Masahif Hadith 72). Nor did he ever express any remorse for not having done so later in his life.


16- So to summarize we say;

a- The narration is reported from Ubayy through narrators who are doubtful, other than the fact that just after Ubayy (RA) there is only one narrator. Many scholars, both classical and recent, have termed its chains as weak.

b- The narration contains a real-time error for it ascribes a place to the alleged verse on stoning whereas the Prophet (PBUH) did not allow it to be written which logically entails he did not specify its place. Also, there is no evidence of the Prophet (PBUH) reciting it that might have specified its position. This point weakens the position of the scholars who authenticated the narration.

c- Even if we accept the narration, then it simply means the verses were abrogated.

d- Ubayy (RA) himself was the member of the committee standardizing the text, but he did not make any bid to get the alleged verse he remembered into the text.

Verily the Qurโ€™an stays above all doubt in its preservation. An Italian orientalist Laura Veccia Vaglieri rightly said;

“But there is another proof of the Divinity of the Qurโ€™an; it is the fact that it has been preserved intact through the ages since the time of its Revelation till the present day.” (Apologia dellโ€™ Islamismo, translated by Dr. Aldo Caselli under the title An Interpretation of Islam p.57 Muslim Book Mark, 2004)

Indeed Allah knows the best!


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