I continue with my challenges to Muhammad Uthman: CHALLENGES FOR ONE MESSAGE FOUNDATION PT. 1.


According to the so-called authentic Islamic reports there wasn’t one standard way of reciting the Quran, but multiple ways, which caused confusion even among Muhammad’s closest companions!

Narrated by Umar bin Al Khattab: I heard Hisham bin Hakim bin Hizam reciting Surat-al-Furqan in a way different to that of mine. Allah’s Apostle had taught it to me (in a different way). So, I was about to quarrel with him (during the prayer) but I waited till he finished, then I tied his garment round his neck and seized him by it and brought him to Allah’s Apostle and said, “I have heard him reciting Surat-al-Furqan in a way different to the way you taught it to me.” The Prophet ordered me to release him and asked Hisham to recite it. When he recited it, Allah’s Apostle said, “It was revealed in this way.” He then asked me to recite it. When I recited it, he said, “It was revealed in this way. The Qur’an has been revealed in seven ahruf, so recite it in the way that is easier for you.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 041, Number 601


Ubayy b. Ka’b reported: I was in the mosque when a man entered and prayed and recited (the Qur’an) in a style to which I objected. Then another man entered (the mosque) and recited in a style different from that of his companion. When we had finished the prayer, we all went to Allah’s Messenger and said to him: This man recited in a style to which I objected, and the other entered and recited in a style different from that of his companion. The Messenger of Allah asked them to recite and so they recited, and the Apostle of Allah expressed approval of their affairs (their modes of recitation). and there occurred in my mind a sort of denial which did not occur even during the Days of Ignorance. When the Messenger of Allah saw how I was affected (by a wrong idea), he struck my chest, whereupon I broke into sweating and felt as though I were looking at Allah with fear. He (the Holy Prophet) said to me: Ubayy, a message was sent to me to recite the Qur’an in one dialect, and I replied: Make (things) easy for my people. It was conveyed to me for the second time that it should be recited in two dialects. I again replied to him: Make affairs easy for my people. It was again conveyed to me for the third time to recite in seven dialects. And (I was further told): You have got a seeking for every reply that I sent you, which you should seek from Me. I said: O Allah! forgive my people, forgive my people, and I have deferred the third one for the day on which the entire creation will turn to me, including even Ibrahim (for intercession). (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 1787

Some Islamic polemicists assert that these refer to the various Arabic dialects which were in use at that time. However, this makes absolutely no sense since both Umar and Hisham belonged to the same tribe, namely the Quraish, and spoke the same exact dialect! Besides, according to the so-called authentic narratives the Quran was “revealed” in the Quraish dialect: 

II: The Qur’an was revealed in the language of Quraysh and the Arabs

“An Arabic Qur’an” (12:2) and “in clear Arabic language” (26:195)

4699. It is related that Anas ibn Malik said, “‘Uthman commanded Zayd ibn Thabit, Sa’id ibn al-‘As, ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, and ‘Abdu’r-Rahman ibn al-Harith ibn Hisham to write out copies of the Qur’an. He told them, “When you and Zayd ibn Thabit disagree about the Arabic of the Qur’an, you should write it in the language of Quraysh. The Qur’an was revealed in their tongue.’ They did that.” (Aisha Bewley, The Sahih Collection of Al-BukhariChapter 69. Book of the Virtues of the Qur’an; underline emphasis ours)


Narrated Anas bin Malik:

Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to ‘Uthman, “O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before.” So ‘Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, “Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you.” Hafsa sent it to ‘Uthman. ‘Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, ‘Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and ‘AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. ‘Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, “In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue.” They did so, and when they had written many copies, ‘Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. ‘Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Said bin Thabit added, “A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur’an and I used to hear Allah’s Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): ‘Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.’ (33.23)” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 510

Therefore, whatever the differences were they must have been of major significance since it shocked Ubayy b. Kab, a close companion and reciter of the Quran, to the point that he started to doubt his faith and caused Umar to physically seize and drag Hisham by his garment which he wrapped around his neck!     

To make matters worse the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan decided to destroy six of these seven ahruf even though companions like Abdullah ibn Masud insisted that each respective Muslim community should continue reading the Quran according to harf taught to them by reciters such as himself!

Difference Between Ahrûf & Qirâ’ât

It is important to realize the difference between ahruf and Qirâ’ât. Before going into that it is interesting to know why the sevenahruf were brought down to one during ‘Uthmân’s time.

The Qur’an continued to be read according to the sevenahruf until midway through Caliph ‘Uthman’s rule when SOME CONFUSION arose in the outlying provinces concerning the Qur’an’s recitation. Some Arab tribes had began to boast about the superiority of their ahruf and a rivalry began to develop. At the same time, some new Muslims also began mixing the various forms of recitation out of ignorance. Caliph ‘Uthman decided to make official copies of the Qur’an according to the dialect of the Quraysh and send them along with the Qur’anic reciters to the major centres of Islam. This decision was approved by Sahaabah and all unofficial copies of the Qur’an were destroyed. Following the distribution of the official copies, all the other ahruf were dropped and the Qur’an began to be read in only one harf. Thus, the Qur’an which is available through out the world today is written and recited only according to theharf of Quraysh.[8] (M S M Saifullah, Islamic Awareness, Versions of The Qur’an?; capital and underline emphasis mine)


“If it is asked what was the point of ‘Uthman unifying people under a single copy of the Qur’an when Abu Bakr had already achieved that, then the response is that the aim of ‘Uthman was not to gather people in order to compile the Qur’an. Do you not see that he sent to Hafsa to ask her to give him the copy of the Qur’an so that it could be copied out and then returned to her? ‘Uthman did that BECAUSE PEOPLE WERE DISAGREEING ABOUT THE VARIOUS RECITATIONS owing to the fact that the Companions had spread to different areas AND HAD BEGUN TO STRONGLY DISAGREE, such as the conflict that took place between the people of Iraq and the people of Syria according to Hudhayfa.

“They joined an expedition to Armenia and each group recited what had been transmitted to them. They disagreed and quarrelled AND SOME OF THEM CALLED THE OTHERS UNBELIEVERS, RENOUNCING THEM COMPLETELY, CURSING ONE ANOTHER. Hudhayfa WAS ALARMED at what he saw. As soon as he arrived back to Medina, according al-Bukhari and at-Tirmidhi, before returning to his house he went to ‘Uthman and said, ‘This Community has reached the stage where it will be destroyed!’ ‘Why?’ asked ‘Uthman. He said, ‘It is about the Book of Allah. I was on this expedition and some of the people of Iraq, Syria and the Hijaz came together.’ Then he described what had happened and said, ‘I fear that they will differ about their Book as the Jews and Christians differed.’

“This is the evidence of the falseness of those who say that the seven ahruf are the seven present readings, because there is no disagreement about them. Suwayd ibn Ghafala reported from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib that ‘Uthman said, ‘What do you think about the copies of the Qur’an? The people have disagreed about the reciters until a man says, “My reading is better than your reading. My reading is better is more excellent than your reading.” This is equivalent to disbelief.’ He replied, ‘What is your view, Amr al-Mu’minin?’ He said, ‘I think that we people should agree on one reading. If you differ today, those after you will disagree more strongly.’ ‘Ali said, ‘The correct opinion is yours, Amr al-Mu’minin.’… ‘Uthman returned the pages to Hafsa and he sent a copy of what they had copied out to every region and commanded of what sheet or copy which had any form of the Qur’an should be burned. ‘Uthman did this after gathering the Muhajirin and Ansar and a group of Muslims and consulting them about it…

“Ibn Shihab said that he was told by ‘Ubaydullah ibn ‘Abdullah that ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud disliked Zayd ibn Thabit copying out the Qur’an and said, ‘Company of Muslims, withdraw from making copies and entrusting it to one man. By Allah, I became Muslim while he was in the loins of an unbelieving father!’ meaning Zayd ibn Thabit. That is why ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud said, ‘People of Iraq, CONCEAL THE COPIES OF THE QUR’AN YOU HAVE AND CONCEAL THEM. Allah says, “Those who misappropriate will arrive on the Day of Rising with what they have misappropriated.”’ (Tafsir al-Qurtubi: Classical Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, translated by Aisha Bewley [Dar Al-Taqwa Ltd. 2003], Volume I, Introduction: ‘Uthmani Codex, pp. 52-53: *; bold and capital emphasis mine)


“Narrated ‘Alqama al-Nakha’i: When ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ud left Kufa his companions gathered around him. He took leave of them, and said: ‘Do not dispute about the Qur’an. It will not vary, nor will it dwindle or change because it is often repeated. The revealed law of Islam, its legal punishments, its religious obligations, exist in it in a single form. If something in one of the ahruf forbade something which another commanded, that would be a variation, but it combines all that; there are no variations in it regarding the legal punishments or the religious obligations, nor in anything else in the laws of Islam. I remember when we disputed about the Qur’an before the Messenger of God; he ordered us to recite before him, and told each of us we recited properly. If I were to come to know that someone knew more than I did about what God had sent down to His Messenger, I would seek him out in order to add his knowledge to mine. I learnt seventy suras from the tongue of the Messenger of God himself, and I knew that the Qur’an was read by him (by those companions chose to learn it by heart and recite to him so that he would check the recitation) every month of Ramadan, until the year his life was taken away, when it was recited twice. When that was finished, I recited myself before him, and he told me I had recited properly. HE WHO RECITES LIKE I RECITE MUST NOT ABANDON THAT RECITATION FOR ANOTHER, AND HE WHO RECITES ACCORDING TO ANOTHER HARF MUST NOT ABANDON THAT FOR ANOTHER, for he who rejects any verse rejects them all.” (The commentary on the Qur’an, by Abu Ja’far Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari; being an abridged translation of Jami’ al-bayan ‘an ta’wil ay al-Qur’an, Introduction and Notesby J. Cooper, general editors, W.F. Madelung & A. Jones [Oxford University Press, New York 1987], Volume 1, p.16; capital emphasis mine)


“Narrated Ibn Mas’ud: ‘He who recites the Qur’an according to one harf MUST NOT CHANGE FROM IT TO ANOTHER.’

“It is quite clear that ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ud did not mean by what he said: He who recites any command or prohibition in the Qur’an must not change from it to the recitation of any threat or promise in it, and he who recites any threat or promise in it must not change from it to the recitation of any narration or parable in it. What he meant, may God have mercy on him, was: He who recites with his harf must not change it to another just because he dislikes it – and his harf is his recitation, just as the Arabs call someone’s recitation his harf… AND HE WHO RECITES WITH UBAIY’S OR ZAID’S HARF, OR WITH THE HARF OF ANY OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE MESSENGER OF GOD WHO RECITED WITH ONE OF THE SEVEN AHRUF, must not change from it to another because he dislikes it. For unbelief in part of the Qur’an is unbelief in all of it, and unbelief in one of these ahruf is unbelief in all of it, meaning by harf the recitation of anyone who recited with one of the seven ahruf as we have described.” (Ibid., p. 29; capital emphasis ours)

And here is what a more recent Muslim author named Farid Esack noted in respect to the compilation of the Quran:

It is likely that Zayd was engaged in more than one process and in different periods; the first, during Abu Bakr’s reign, when he had undertaken the material collection of the suhuf, and another, during the period of ‘Uthman, when he undertook its arrangement and editing. The second process also commences with concern about human frailties –recollection, memory, pronunciation, retention, etc., – which became particularly acute as the Muslim empire began to spread and time moved on. This is reflected in the following statement attributed to Abu Qullabah on the authority of Malik ibn Anas, a Companion:

During the Caliphate of ‘Uthman, different teachers were teaching DIFFERENT READINGS to their students. Thus it used to happen that that[sic] the students would meet AND DISAGREE. The matter reached the point that they would take their dispute to their teachers, WHO WOULD DENOUNCE EACH OTHER AS HERETICS (kaffara ba’duhum ba’da). This situation reached ‘Uthman’s ears. He delivered an oration saying: “You are here by me, yet YOU DISAGREE on the reading and pronunciation of the Qur’an. Therefore, those who are far away from me in the provinces MUST BE IN GREATER DISPUTE… (ibn Abu Dawud, cited in Zarqani, 1996, 1:210).

This statement casts A FURTHER SHADOW around the putative finality of the earlier process which Zayd had engaged in and the notion of an official codex lodged with Hafsah. While a loose collection may have been completed then, the arrangement and editing seems to have taken place much later. During the time of ‘Uthman’s reign, a major impetus for this task was the concern expressed by Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, who led the Muslim forces against the Armenians in Azerbaijan. He was deeply perturbed at the quarreling that had broken out among soldiers from different areas of the then Muslim world. Upon his return to Medina he urged the Caliph to ensure the proper collection of the Qur’an. ‘Uthman then selected Zayd for the task. Traditional Muslim scholarship holds that Zayd took the suhuf in Hafsah’s possession and, with the assistance of a group of scribes comprising ‘Abd Allah ibn Zubayr, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Harith, and Sa’d ibn al-‘As, prepared a text faithful to the language/dialect of the Quraysh, the Prophet’s tribe (Zarkashi, 1972, 1:236). Copies of this new version were sent to Damascus, Basra, and Kufa and another copy was kept at Medina. Orders were given to destroy all other versions, and, as indicated earlier, the extent of compliance with these orders seems to vary in different places. Given the conflict ridden nature of ‘Uthman’s rule, it would seem somehow strange for such a process to be undertaken and completed in the neat manner that later Muslim writings hold. The vehemently apologetic nature with which Muslim scholars, even the earlier ones, present this account suggests that the battle for the authenticity of this process as well as its final product may have lasted longer than what traditional opinion may suggest… (Esack, The Qur’an A User’s Guide: A Guide to its Key Theme, History And Interpretation [Oneworld Publications, Oxford, 2005], pp. 87-88; capital and underline emphasis mine)



‘Uthman’s project to compile the Qur’an was clearly in response to the proliferation of “unauthorized copies” during his time – partly as a result of the problems of the Arabic script of that time. Early Muslim scholars such as Ibn Astah (d. 360/970-971), Ibn Abi Dawud (d. 316/928-929), and Ibn al-Anbari (d. 328/939-940) also dealt with these variant codices. Some of these codices seem to have been in use well after the official canon was produced and up to well into the fourth Islamic century. In Kufa, for example, the version of ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud remained in vogue for some time and there are indications that he refused instructions to stop teaching his versions and to destroy copies of it. Traditional Muslim scholars argue that the period of Ibn Mas’ud’s version’s persistence and its strength had been exaggerated and that the wisdom of ‘Uthman’s course of action had become apparent to Ibn Mas’ud fairly early (Zarqani, 1996, 1:214, cf. 224-228). The extra-canonical texts never gained approval and were viewed by Muslims as the personal copies of individuals worth retaining for their exegetical value. (Ibid., p. 93; underline emphasis mine)

The above sources provide conclusive evidence that the differences that existed between the competing codices produced by companions such as Ubayy and Abdullah ibn Masud were not minor. They were so great and so serious that the Muslims even started to attack and curse each other!

I am not done just yet since there’s more in part 3: CHALLENGES FOR ONE MESSAGE FOUNDATION PT. 3.


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