Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Preservation of the Qur'an

Claims of the Qur'an's 'perfect preservation' turn out to be a case study in denial. Islam's Amazingly Unfalsifiable Claims--Part One: The Preservation of the Qur'an :-

Suppose my friend Bassam presents the following hypothesis: "There are undetectable aliens living on Pluto." Suppose I travel to Pluto in search of these aliens. I set up all kinds of instruments to see if there is any evidence of aliens. I return empty-handed. "Bassam," I say. "You said there were aliens on Pluto. I checked. But there aren't any." "Well," Bassam replies, "I said they're undetectable, didn't I?"

Here I would have a difficult time understanding Bassam's meaning. He's making a positive claim, namely, that there are aliens on Pluto. But at the same time, by saying that these aliens are undetectable, he's ruling out our ability to test his claim. His claim is unfalsifiable, meaning there's no way, even in theory, that we can prove his theory false via experiment or observation. How useful are such hypotheses?

Consider now the following claim made by Bassam and other Muslims: "The Qur'an has been perfectly preserved." At first, it seems like such a claim is falsifiable. That is, it seems that we can test the claim by doing some historical research. So we do a little research and we learn that Abdullah ibn Masud and Ubayy ibn Ka'b, two of Muhammad's top reciters of the Qur'an, had a different number of Surahs in their versions of the Qur'an. One would think that this falsifies the Muslim claim. "Not so," says Bassam. "Abdullah and Ubayy were simply wrong. The Qur'an we have today is, by definition, the correct one. Hence, everyone who has a different number of chapters must be wrong." So, given such a claim, even if we were to find out that every single one of Muhammad's companions except Zaid ibn Thabit had a different number of Surahs, this wouldn't count as any evidence against the perfect preservation of the Qur'an, since, by definition, only the Qur'an we have today is the correct one.

So we do a little more investigation. We find that there were all kinds of textual variants among early Qur'anic texts. That is, if we were to turn to Surah 2 in the Qur'an of Ubayy ibn Ka'b, this Surah would differ from that in the Qur'an of Ibn Masud, which would differ from that in the Qur'an of Zaid ibn Thabit, etc. These Qur'ans have spelling differences, different words, different phrases, etc. Surely this will count as evidence against the perfect preservation of the Qur'an, won't it? "No, it won't," replies the Muslim. "You see, there were seven [or ten, or twenty] different readings of the Qur'an, and all of them were correct." Here we find that there can be all sorts of differences among copies of the Qur'an, and yet this doesn't at all affect the hypothesis that the Qur'an we have today is a perfect copy of the tablet in heaven.

We dig deeper in search of the truth, and we find Muslim sources reporting that massive sections of the Qur'an have been lost. We find Aisha and Ubayy ibn Ka'b reporting that more than a hundred verses of Surah 33 are missing. Surely this will count as proof that the Qur'an hasn't been perfectly preserved. "Not so," says the Muslim. "Whatever verses are missing from the Qur'an have been abrogated (despite the fact that the Qur'an contains other verses that have been abrogated). You see, Allah changed his mind quite a bit, and he often gave us verses, only to take those verses back." Thus, we find that no matter how much evidence there is that numerous verses are missing from the Qur'an, this will never count as any evidence whatsoever against perfect preservation.

Here non-Muslims are quite confused. Were the missing verses of Surah 33 part of the tablet in heaven? If so, then the Qur'an Muslims have today is very different from the Qur'an in heaven. If not, then why were they revealed as part of the Qur'an? While we're at it, does the perfect Qur'an in heaven contain all seven readings (this would be quite an odd book). If so, then the Qur'an Muslims have today is quite different from the Qur'an in heaven, since Uthman destroyed most (but not all) of the different readings. If not, weren't the variants corruptions of the original, which contained no variants?
In the end, no matter what the evidence says, Muslims will continue to claim that the Qur'an has been perfectly preserved, for they have insulated themselves from the evidence (and this is extremely common in Islam). But non-Muslims are left asking ourselves, "What is the difference between, on the one hand, a perfectly preserved book whose early copies contain different numbers of chapters, different verses, different spellings, different words, different phrases, a different order of chapters, and which, at different times, contained completely different passages (for some were abrogated), and, on the other hand, a book that hasn't been perfectly preserved at all?" As far as evidence is concerned, there is no difference between the Qur'an and a book that hasn't been perfectly preserved, which is why the Muslim claim makes so little sense to anyone who isn't a Muslim.


  1. Hell is ready for u my brother. u dont know anything about Quran and islam. Guess ur mom dosnt teach u Islam and quran.

    Why ur writing all these..

  2. You better go non muslim country to practice your religion. not in maldives....

  3. Anonymous12:46 PM

    I am really worried about u now. ur annonymyty prove u dont have guts. why dont u give ur name and address. for sure if u mention these i am the first guy who will stand with sword to kill u

  4. None of you commenter have said why what is in the article is wrong..
    instead you threaten my life..
    so Islamic of you people..
    Just like Mohammad, your "Prophet" who killed those who criticized or examined publicly what he said....

  5. BTW..did any of you read it before you wrote your comments?

  6. and the "the first guy who will stand with sword to kill" me is also anonymous!!
    Declare yourself you Muslim coward!

  7. Anonymous1:16 PM

    Muslims become personally upset when you show them that Koran has errors....they dont argue the points..they identify themselves so much with Islam when you question it, it is like questioning their parentage...
    Their prophet Mohamed steals personal identities as well..and replaces it with Islam...
    the language is stolen, culture is stolen and theIR sounds are also stolen..

  8. Anonymous3:13 PM

    Thank you for this interesting piece. Your arguments are logical and an honest appraisal of the available evidence. Being no expert on this, I wait for a good counter-argument from the opposing view.

    I am dismayed by my Muslim brothers/sisters for the lack of common decency in their reaction. Asking someone to go hell or another country maybe alright. Blaming someone’s lack of understanding of Quran and Islam solely on his/her mother is grossly unfair. I think the teachers of Islam are to blame if a counter argument is not available to us. And threatening to kill the author only hints at the innate frustration of not being able to address the issue here.

    May Allah bless us all!

  9. first try to understand quran.. without knowing any thing ur writing ..

  10. Albaany3:43 PM

    i am the guy who said " i am the first guy who will stand with sword to kill u"

    My name is albaany

    to contact me u can email to

  11. Dude, why do you even bother with this?

    People of faith will simply disregard things like this simply as a "blasphemous smear campaign by some heretic bastard". Nothing else would matter, not hard to imagine why. I mean we are so used to choosing sides with obscurity in the face of historicity, fact or even logic. I'll bet most of the guys who blew tantrums here didn't even bother reading, let alone contemplating the implications of such a claim.

    My stance in this, personally, is that I don't really know enough on the subject to conclusively decide. But one thing I am not going to do is ignore the sound of reason and knowledge that I have.

    For me, this whole point of this is just baseless. To begin with, the literal accuracy doesn't really matter... I mean 1400 years after the scripture was revealed, we still kill each other just because we interpret it differently. Oh, by the way, here is something that you didn't mention. The original Koran did not have diacritics and this was added a few centuries after Muhammad passed away. The nature of the Arabic language is that diacritical errors cause words to loose their meaning. This alone creates a colossal amount of misinterpretation and we are not even considering the dubious methods of compilation described by scholars.

  12. Anonymous1:13 AM

    While viewing, if the beginnings of the first sentence do not make much sense, just check the author. It's bound to be arabiguitar. //Ignored Succesfully

  13. Anonymous5:21 AM

    @fiz. you comment about diacritical errors, and those arguments in the article does raise some valid questions about why a higher Being chose a language that clearly does not communicate the message He/She wanted to communicate to the human race. Why doesn't he use telepathy or something? I really wonder why he left us with all this inconvience. Test us? Nah, I think they's just watching this human soap opera and having a good laugh!

  14. abdullah9:03 PM

    again copy pasting from Jews. the question is have you read it before copy pasting. You would question Quran which is believed to be source of inspiration for a civilization that dominated the earth for 13 centuries but you would not question some website run by Jews who are the most deceitful of all people.

    "We find Aisha and Ubayy ibn Ka'b reporting that more than a hundred verses of Surah 33 are missing."
    above claim is based on a fabricated saying. Devout Christians Jews are jealous that so many of the muslims have learned the quran by heart. And at the time of prophet there were thousands of reciters of the quran who recite the quran from their memory. yes there are seven readings of the quran there is no difference there it is of different dialects of arabic.
    you think you are so bright that these allegations have not been answered by the scholars of Muslims time and time again..

  15. Anonymous12:23 PM

    @abdullah. it's an argument, agreed. but how logical and convincing is it. You surely know how unrealiable human memory is. Simple memory tests with even those gifted to have good memory will show that over time it deteriorates.

  16. Aisha (Mohamed's child bride with whom he had pedophile sex) said that the Koran verse dealing with stoning to death existed. It was written down on a parchment and she kept somewhere in the house. Meanwhile in the upheaval following Mohamed's death she got busy and a goat found the parchment and ate it.

    Sources: Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal. vol. 6. p. 269. Sunan Ibn Majah, p. 626. Ibn Qutbah, Tawil Mukhtalafi 'l-Hadith

    Allah must have used goats to edit the Koran!

  17. abdullah8:55 AM

    Yes individual memory can be questioned not memory of thousands.

  18. Anonymous10:13 PM

    "I think the teachers of Islam are to blame if a counter argument is not available to us. "

    Maybe there is no counter argument that makes any sense?

  19. Anonymous10:14 PM

    why cannot not memory of thousands be not questioned?

  20. abdullah11:23 PM

    not when every single one of them repeats the same thing..over and over...whats there to question about?

  21. Anonymous2:20 AM

    According to Sahih Bukhari, Muhammad's chosen teachers were four:

    Narrated Masriq: 'Abdullah bin 'Amr mentioned 'Abdullah bin Masud and said, "I shall ever love that man, for I heard the Prophet saying, 'Take (learn) the Qur'an from four: 'Abdullah bin Masud, Salim, Mu'adh and Ubai bin Ka'b.' "
    - Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book 61

    First among Muhammad's chosen teachers of the Qur'an was ibn Masud. Yet Ibn Masud is well known to have disagreed with Zaid's text of the Qur'an. The disagreements were not limited to qirrat or minor word variations, but even the number of surahs was not something they agreed on! Ibn Masud, Muhammad's preferred teacher of the Qur'an, did not include al-Faatihah, al-Falaq, or al-Naas in his text! Ibn Masud's text contained only 111 surahs. About Zaid's text (the modern Qur'an), Ibn Masud is reported to have said the following:

    The people have been guilty of deceit in the reading of the Quran. I like it better to read according to the recitation of him (Muhammad) whom I love more than that of Zaid Ibn Thabit. By Him besides Whom there is no god! I learnt more than seventy surahs from the lips of the Apostle of Allah while Zaid was still a youth, having two locks and playing with the youth.
    - Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, vol. 2, p.444

    To settle this dispute between Zaid and ibn Masud, why not turn to someone else who Muhammad chose as an excellent teacher of the Qur'an? One of the other four Muhammad hand-picked was Ubay bin Ka'b. But when we turn to Ubay, we find out that he disagreed with both Zaid and ibn Masud, and he included 116 chapters in his Qur'an! However, we do find agreement between his text and ibn Masud's text against Zaid's text (such as the ordering of the surahs) and between his text and ibn Abbas's text (such as verses that Zaid did not include). Beyond this, we find in Ubay's Qur'an verses that Umar considered part of the Qur'an (the Verses of Rajm, or Stoning) which Zaid left out, much to Umar's chagrin.

    So what of the modern text of the Qur'an? Without having to make any conclusion myself, I can simply recount the data and say the following:

    - Muhammad's chosen teachers disagreed with it
    - They disagreed with the number of chapters
    - They disagreed with the order of the chapters
    - They disagreed with the content of the verses
    - Even Umar agreed with Muhammad's teachers against Zaid's Qur'an

    The evidence is strong, and the conclusions are overwhelming. It seems that those who gloss over these facts or deny them will remain Quranically confused.

  22. Anonymous2:29 AM

    Are Surah 1, Surah 113, and Surah 114 supposed to be part of the Qur'an? Ibn Masud (Muhammad's top choice as a teacher of the Qur'an) says no. Zaid says yes. Who's right? Have a guess, Abdullah?
    (though my money's on the man Muhammad believed was more reliable; feel free to go against your prophet on this one, though).

    Are Ibn Ka'b's two additional Surahs supposed to be part of the Qur'an? Ibn Ka'b (Muhammad's top choice as a reciter of the Qur'an) says yes. Zaid says no. Who's right? Have a guess, Abdullah?

    According to Aisha and Ibn Ka'b, two-thirds of Surah 33 is missing. Were these missing verses supposed to be part of the Qur'an? Have a guess, Abdullah?

    According to Aisha, after she wrote down the Verse of Stoning and the Verse of Suckling and laid them under her pillow, a goat ate them. The Verse of Stoning and the Verse of Suckling aren't part of the Qur'an today. Were they supposed to be? Have a guess, Abdullah?

    According to Sahih Muslim, the early Muslims used to recite entire Surahs that they later forgot. Were these Surahs supposed to be part of the Qur'an? Have a guess, Abdullah?

    Ibn Umar told Muslims that they shouldn't say that they have learned all of the Qur'an, since much of it is missing. Were these missing parts supposed to be part of the Qur'an? Have a guess, Abdullah?

  23. Anonymous4:05 PM

    surely there's a place in hell ready for you :) many of what you have wrote is wrong

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