Perfect Preservation of the Holy Quran: The manuscript of Hazrat Abdullah bin Mas‘ud

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Last Updated on 14th June 2021

A series of articles discussing the miracle of perfect preservation of the Holy Quran and responding to modern-day criticisms.

Farhan Iqbal, Missionary, Canada

Some critics of Islam raise an objection that Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud did not consider Surah al-Fatihah and the Mu‘awwidhatain (last two chapters of the Holy Quran) as part of the original text of the whole Quran, causing his hypothetical manuscript to be made up of 111 chapters instead of 114 chapters. We call it hypothetical because he never compiled an official manuscript as opposed to mush‘af-e-umm and never declared or formally announced that his manuscript should be considered a standard instead of any other manuscript

Regardless, it is indeed true that some narrations mention this opinion of Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud that he did not wish to include these three chapters in his manuscripts of the Quran. For instance, it is narrated in Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Masnadul Ansar, as follows: 

حدثنا محمد بن الحسين بن أشكاب ثنا محمد بن ابي عبيدة بن معن ثنا أبي عن الأعمش عن أبي إسحق عن عبد الرحمن بن يزيد قال: كان عبد اللّه يحك المعوذتين من مصاحفه ويقول: ان هما ليستا من كتاب الله تبارك و تعالي، قال الأعمش و حدثنا عاصم عن زر عن أبي بن كعب قال: سألنا عن هما رسول الله صلي الله عليه و سلم قال (فقيل لي) فقلت

“It is narrated by Abdur Rahman bin Yazid that Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud used to erase the Mu‘awwidhatain from his manuscripts and used to say, ‘They are not from the book of Allah [i.e. the Holy Quran].’ One narrator, A‘mish, narrates that Asim narrates from Zirr, who in turn narrates from Hazrat Ubayyra bin Kaab [who said], ‘We asked the Holy Prophetsa about them [i.e. Mu‘awwidhatain], and he said, “This is how I have been commanded”, and so I convey [this to others].’”

A similar narration appears in Sahih al-Bukhari as follows: 

عَنْ زِرٍّ، قَالَ سَأَلْتُ أُبَىَّ بْنَ كَعْبٍ قُلْتُ يَا أَبَا الْمُنْذِرِ إِنَّ أَخَاكَ ابْنَ مَسْعُودٍ يَقُولُ كَذَا وَكَذَا‏.‏ فَقَالَ أُبَىٌّ سَأَلْتُ رَسُولَ اللّٰهِ صلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ لِيْ قِيْلَ لِيْ‏‏ فَقُلْتُ، قَالَ فَنَحْنُ نَقُولُ كَمَا قَالَ رَسُولُ اللّٰهِ  صلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم‏‏

“Zirr bin Hubaish narrates, ‘I asked Ubayyra bin Kaab, “O Abul Mundhir! Your brother, Ibn Mas‘udra said so-and-so [i.e., the Mu‘awwidhatain do not belong to the Quran].” Ubayyra said, “I asked the Holy Prophetsa about them, and he said, ‘They have been revealed to me, and I have recited them (as a part of the Quran).” Ubayyra added, “So, we say according to what the Holy Prophetsa said.”’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Tafsir, Hadith 4977)

First, it must be clear from these narrations that Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud is only expressing an opinion about the last two chapters of the Quran. Other narrations mention that he thought these were merely prayers revealed to the Holy Prophetsa to seek protection from Allah on behalf of his grandsons, Hazrat Imam Hassanra and Hazrat Imam Hussainra. Commenting on similar objections about Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud, the Promised Messiahas writes: 

“These ignorant people say that Ibn Mas‘udra requested a prayer duel, which means that it is permissible for Muslims to do prayer duels. However they cannot prove that Ibn Mas‘udra did not retract his opinion, and they also cannot prove that a prayer duel took place resulting in Divine punishment for those in error. The truth is that Ibn Mas‘udra was an ordinary person, not a prophet or messenger. If he made a mistake out of passion, does that mean that we should consider his statement part of:

 اِنْ‭ ‬هُوَ‭ ‬اِلَّا‭ ‬وَحْيٌ‭ ‬يُّوْحٰي  

[It is nothing but pure revelation that has been revealed by God] [Ch.53: V.5]?” (Izala-e-Auham, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 3, pp. 421-422) 

The Promised Messiahas is arguing here that no matter what the case, the status of Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud is not so high that we should consider him immune from errors in judgement. His words and statements do not have the same status as the words of the Holy Prophetsa, regarding whom it is clearly stated in the Quran that what he said for religious guidance was pure revelation from God. At the same time, there is absolutely no doubt that he was a great teacher of the Holy Quran and one of the most revered companions, and among the earliest converts to Islam, and every Muslim must respect him. A simple error in judgment about three of the chapters of the Holy Quran does not diminish his high status in the eyes of any Muslim. Our prayer for him has always been and continues to be, “Radhiyallahu ‘anho”, may Allah be pleased with him.

Secondly, the narrations themselves clearly refute the error of Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud as Hazrat Abdullahra bin Ubayy – another revered teacher of the Holy Quran – is reported to have checked with the Holy Prophetsa about the Mu‘awwidhatain and he told him that they were part of the Quran. 

Similar to this narration, there are many other well-authenticated ahadith that quote the Holy Prophetsa as clearly stating that Surah al-Fatihah and the Mu‘awwidhatain are part of the Holy Quran and not separate from it. 

An interesting point is that other narrations state that Ibn Mas‘udra did not include the Mu‘awwidhatain in his manuscript, or they were missing from the manuscript of Ibn Mas‘udra, but these narrations do not record his statement that they are not a part of the book of Allah. This is a subtle difference which means that there is some confusion as to the real reason why Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud did not include these two chapters in his manuscript. It may have been the opinion of Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud or it may have been the opinion of the person narrating this about him. In either case, these are just their opinions which are clearly refuted in these narrations as well as many other narrations from authentic sources. 

As Ahsanullah Danish Sahib puts it, on the one hand, we have the opinion of the companions of the Holy Prophetsa supported by historical evidence, the united opinion of the entire ummah, the united opinion of the memorisers or huffaz of the Holy Quran, and on the other hand, there is the opinion of the person narrating this from Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud, or perhaps the opinion of Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud himself. What does our rational mind tell us? (Az-Zikrul Mahfuz, p. 276 [2007])

Accept the doubt of one or two people or the clear-cut statements of the Holy Prophetsa that plainly state that both Surah al-Fatihah and the Mu‘awwidhatain are part of the revealed Holy Quran. 

The evidence for the excellent preservation of the text of the Holy Quran is quite extensive. 

A recent discovery of a manuscript of the Quran gives further evidence for this. It was found in the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom and scholars have said that it is perhaps the oldest manuscript of the Quran in the world. It dates from the period of 568 CE to 645 CE which makes it a possible manuscript from the time of the Holy Prophetsa himself.  (www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2015/07/quran-manuscript-22-07-15.aspx [Retrieved 5 April, 2017], see also www.bbc.com/news/business-35151643 [Retrieved 5 April, 2017)])

It contains parts of chapters 18 to 20 of the Holy Quran and a comparison with a present-day publication of the Quran reveals that they are identical, without any differences. Despite all this evidence, if some critics object to the preservation of the Holy Quran, it can only be due to bias. An honest researcher in this field has no option but to affirm that the prediction of the Quran regarding its perfect preservation has indeed been fulfilled. 

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