THE TESTIMONY OF IMAM HUSAIN CONCERNING THE VARIOUS READINGS OF THE QURAN
We saw in the preceding chapters that the Khalif ‘Usman shocked at the grave differences which had crept into the reading of the Quran, applied a drastic remedy by compiling one authoritative copy, and then burning all the rest. But even these measures were ineffectual; and in spite of ‘Usman’s recension, the ‘seven readings,’ at least in a modified form, still continued to exist. These various readings are known as the ‘Haft Qira’at’, and the readers, through whom these various readings have been handed down, are known as Qaris. Some were natives of Mecca, some of Medina, some of Kufa, and some of Syria; and the different readings of the Quran continue to be known by the names of those who gave them currency. Thus the reading current in India is known as that of ‘Asim, or of Hafaz, his disciple; whilst the qira’at current in Arabia is that of Nafi, a native of Medina. Jalalud-din, on the other hand, in his famous commentary, follows the qira’at of the Qari Imam-Abu-‘Umr. Many of the differences are merely in pronunciation, but in not a few cases grave differences in meaning still exist. Thus in sura Fatiha the Qaris Ya’qub, ‘Asim, Kisa’i and Khalaf-i-Kufi approve of the reading (m¯alik); whereas every other Qari reads (malik).
We will now fulfil our promise to give specific examples of the many differences which exist even in the present text of the Quran; though the reader should bear in mind the fact that even if that were now perfect, it would signify little, seeing that ‘Usman’s recension itself has been proved absolutely untrustworthy. Before giving detailed examples of the present corruption of the Quranic text, however, we here quote some pregnant remarks upon the subject from the introduction to the famous commentary of Imam Husain. The great commentator writes thus,
“And as the readings which are authorized to be read are various, and their difference in letters and words innumerable, trustworthy readings according to Bakr, approved by Imam ‘Asim, prevalent in this country and reliable, are inserted in these pages (of this commentary). And a few such passages, which, on account of the difference, entirely alter the meaning of the Quran, and opposed by Hafaz, are also referred to.”
From these candid remarks of the great commentator Kamal-ud-din Husain it is clear that a number of various readings still exist in the Quran, and that in words and letters ‘innumerable’ corruptions have crept into the text. Not only so; but the great scholar freely confesses that in a number of cases the meaning of the Quran is quite altered thereby. The Imam further informed us that various readings are current in different countries, some of which are trustworthy, whilst others are not. Others of the readings to be referred to by him, he tells us, are opposed to the reading of Hafaz, that is, of the reading current in India to-day; but which reading, of all these conflicting copies, really represents the original Quran circulated by ‘Usman, not to speak of that Quran taught by Muhammad himself, neither Imam Husain nor any other Muslim scholar is able to tell us. One thing however is certain these discrepancies do exist, and thereby prove incontestably that the boasted Divine protection of the Quran, as a matter of fact, does not exist.
A study of the Traditions throws considerable light upon this perplexing problem, and shows how many of these differences arose; whilst the total disappearance of whole verses and Suras is also largely accounted for by a reference to the same authorities. Thus in a tradition preserved by ‘Umr we read,
‘Umr said, “Hisham read certain verses in Sura Furqan which the prophet had not taught me. I said, ‘Who taught you this Sura?’ He said, ‘The Prophet of God.’ I said, Thou liest, the prophet of God never taught it thee thus’.” As a matter of fact Islamic history contains many references to the various readings of the Quran. Thus we read that a certain Quran reader named Ibn-Sanabud was once reading the Quran in the great Mosque of Bagdad; but his reading not agreeing with the reading of that place, he was severely beaten and cast into prison, and only released upon his renouncing the reading with which he was familiar. These various readings differed not only in pronunciation, but in a number of cases the whole meaning of the Quranic passage was altered. We now proceed to give a few examples of such passages, which are referred to by Husain, Baizawi and other learned Muhammadan authorities in their writings.
In the celebrated commentary of Imam Husain we read that in the first ruku of Sura Ambiya the current reading is, “He (Muhammad) said, My Lord knows;” but according to the reading of Bakr we should read, “Say thou (O, Muhammad), My Lord knows.” Here we have a concrete example of a serious difference in the text of the Quran, which totally alters the meaning of the passage. According to the one reading God addresses the prophet, and orders him to say, “My Lord knows,” whilst in the other, the prophet is represented as affirming in his reply to the unbelievers that, “My Lord knows.”
From a host of others we quote one more example from the same authority. In the first ruku of Sara Azhab we read,
“The prophet is nigher unto the true believers than their own souls, and his wives are their mothers.” But the Imam Saheb tells us that according to the copy of Ubi and the reading of Ibn-Mas’ud we should read several additional words in this passage, viz., “and he (Muhammad) is their father.” The reader will now perceive why Ibn-Mas’ud refused to give up his Quran to the Khalif ‘Usman; and, remembering the high encomiums passed upon the former’s Quran by the prophet himself, will readily believe that these words have disappeared from the present Quran. If, then, our Muhammadan brethren, in spite of these undoubted defects in their sacred book, can still continue to read and believe in the same, upon what process of reasoning, we ask, do they object to read the Injil because, as they think, it has been altered in some places?