Verses of Surah Ahzab: Lost, abrogated or what?
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
Another issue often raised about the Qur’anic preservation is about the total number of verses in Surah Ahzab i.e. the 33rd chapter of the Holy Qur’an. In the established Qur’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.
2- The narration often quoted on this issue comes through Ubayy bin Ka’b (RA), a famous companion of the Prophet (PBUH).
Following is the text of the narration as found in Musnad Ahmad.
عن عاصم بن بهدلة عن زر قال قال لي أبي بن كعب : كأين تقرأ سورة الأحزاب أو كأين تعدها قال قلت له ثلاثا وسبعين آية فقال قط لقد رأيتها وإنها لتعادل سورة البقرة ولقد قرأنا فيها الشيخ والشيخة إذا زنيا فارجموهما البتة نكالا من الله والله عليم حكيم
It is narrated from Aasim bin Bahdala, he from Zirr, he said: Ubayy bin Ka’b said to me; “How much of Surah Ahzab do you recite or how much do you count [its verses to be]?” Zirr said that he replied, “Seventy-three verses.” Ubayy said; “Only this much, verily I use to see it and it was equal to Surah Baqarah and we used to recite in it, ‘Whenever an aged man or aged woman commit fornication stone them as a punishment from Allah and Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.’” (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.
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. Let’s find out the details.
5- 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 doubdtful.
b- From Zirr, two people narrate this. One is Aasim b. Bahdala [Abi al-Najud] and other is Yazid b. Abi Ziyad.
7- From them onwards there are multiple narrators but the point to note here is that scholars who has termed the narration as weak have criticized these two narrators.
a- See the classification of Musnad Ahmad by Shaykh Shu’aib Arna’ut accompained by Aadil Murshid and Sa’id al-Ham, Al-Resalah publishers Beirut, 1999 vol. 35 p.134
About the narration through Yazid bin Abi Ziyad they say;
“The chain is Da’if (i.e. weak) due to the weakness of Yazid bin Abi Ziyad.”
And about the narration through Aasim they comment;
“The chain is Da’if (i.e. weak) – Aasim bin Bahdala – even if acceptable used to have inadvertences due to bad memory, so he alone cannot be relied upon in reports like this.”
b- Similarly Shaykh Abdul Sami’ Abdul Bari al-Saygh in his research and explanation of the narrations from two companions, Jabir bin Samrah and Ubayy bin Ka’b, included in Musnad Ahmad has also criticized both these narrators. Commenting on the narration through Yazid b. Abi Ziyad he says;
“The narration through this chain is Da’if (i.e. weak) because of the presence of Yazid b. Abi Yazid.” (p. 441)
And commenting about the status of the narration through Aasim b. Bahdala he says;
“The narration through this chain is Da’if (i.e. weak) for it includes Aasim and he is [otherwise] acceptable but used to have inadvertences.” (p. 439)
The original title of the work is ‘Marwiyat al-Sahabayn Jalilayn Jabir bin Samrah wa Ubayy bin Ka’b fi Musnad al-Imam Ahmad’ published by Ummul Qura University, 1988 vol. 1
c- Even classical scholars also questioned authority of this narration.
Hafiz Nuruddin Haythmi (d. 807 A.H.) commented on this report saying;
“In its chain is Aasim bin Abi al-Najud and he is Da’if (i.e. weak)” (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;
“Their chains depend upon Aasim bin Abi al-Najud and he is Da’if (i.e. weak)”
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 ‘Aisha (RA) is reported in al-Ittiqan (cf. Abu ‘Ubaid’s Fadhail al-Qur’an H. 700) but it is also extremely Da’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-Qur’ania section 47 pub. Saudi Ministry of Islamic publications p.1456
9- In Kanzul Ummal (H. 4550) there is narration through Huzaifa (RA) attributing the similar thing to ‘Umar (RA). I could not find its chain of narrators anywhere even though I made 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 ‘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 Ka’b (RA) and the one attributed to ‘Umar (RA) also has another problem i.e. of mentioning the verse on stoning among the verses ‘taken away’ (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 Ka’b (RA) himself stated;
ربّما نزلَ على رسول – صلى الله عليه وسلم – الصدرُ من السور فأكتبُها، ثم ينزل عليه فيقول: “يا أُبيُّ اكتب هذه في السورة التي يُذكرَ فيها كذا وكذا”، وربّما نزل عليه فأقفُ حتى أنظرَ ما يقولُ حتى يحذدثَ إليّ فيقول: “تلك الآياتُ ضعها في سورةِ كذا وكذا
“Sometimes the beginning of a surah is revealed to the Prophet, so I write it down; then another revelation comes to him so he says, ‘Ubayy! Write this down in the surah where such and such is mentioned.’ At other times a revelation comes down to him and I await his instructions, till he informs me of its rightful place.” (al-Intisar lil-Qur’an 1/291)
There are more reports clealrly showing that it was Prophet (PBUH) who told the scribes the exact placment 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,
فقال عمرو : لما نزلت أتيت النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فقلت : أكتبها ؟ فكأنه كره ذلك
‘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 Shu’ain Arna’ut said: “Its 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.”
b- Also, Kathir bin Salt says that he, Zaid bin Thabit and Marwan bin Hakam were discussing as to why it is not written in the Qur’anic manuscript and Umar bin Khattab was present with them and listening to their discussion he said he knew it better then them and told them that he came to Messenger of Allah and said:
يا رسول الله أكتبني آية الرجم قال فأتيته فذكرته قال فذكر آية الرجم قال فقال يا رسول الله أكتبني آية الرجم قال لا استطيع ذاك
“‘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 to be part of a certain Surah is rendered dubious. (For the actual status of these words and reality of the ‘verse’ 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 ‘Umar (RA).
Does this realy question the preservation of Holy Qur’an?
14- Now do these details and some difference among scholars really question the stability of the Qur’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 Qur’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 the giving the wording of the alleged verse, Ubayy (RA).said;
فَرُفِعَ فِيمَا رُفِعَ
“Then it was taken away with what was taken away.” (Musnad al-Tiyalsi, Hadith 542)
Let me also clarify that al-Tiyalsi’s collection is one of the earliest compilations containing this narration.
The idea and scheme of abrogation in the Qur’an is discussed HERE.
15- Ubayy (RA) himself was the member of the twelve member committee formulated to standardize the Qur’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 Dawud’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 then 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 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 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 Qur’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 Qur’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 dell’ Islamismo, translated by Dr. Aldo Caselli under the title An Interpretation of Islam p.57 Muslim Book Mark, 2004)
Indeed Allah knows the best!
Source let me turn the tables