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No. of Surahs in Ubayy’s Mushaf

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Waqar Akbar Cheema

Abstract

Critics of Islam find it hard to believe that the Qur’an was perfectly preserved, so rather than examining the evidence that proves that it was, they often create arguments using very weak evidence to prove that it was not consistently preserved. Through a careful examination of their evidence, it is clear that they do not know the full context of any of the topics they bring up, and thus, their arguments fall apart once the full scope of the situation is revealed. One such discussion revolves around the mushaf of Ubayy bin Ka‘b, which allegedly had two “additional” surahs. However, this article will clearly show that these additions were only supplications that Ubayy chose to write in his manuscript, but not parts of the Qur’an itself.

1. Introduction

The number of surahs (chapters) in the mushaf (personal copy of the Qur’an) of Ubayy bin Ka‘b is one of the top ten arguments of Orientalists and Christians against the perfect preservation of the Qur’anic text.

It is said that Ubayy’s mushaf had two “additional surahs” and critics make use of such statements arguing against the unanimity of the earliest Muslims on the Qur’an’s content.

2. The narrations

The arguments sprout from the narrations quoted in the well-known work al-Ittiqan of as-Suyuti (d. 911 AH).

While discussing the number of surahs, he writes:

وفي مصحف أبي ست عشرة لأنه كتب في آخره سورتي الحفد والخلع

“And in the mushaf of Ubayy there were [one hundred and] sixteen surahs, for towards the end of it he had written Surahs ‘Hafd’ and ‘Khal.’”[1]

After this he quotes, on the authority of Abu ‘Ubayd (d. 228 AH), a narration from Ibn Sireen:

كتب أبي بن كعب في مصحفه. فاتحة الكتاب والمعوذتين واللهم إنا نستعينك واللهم إياك نعبد

 “Written in the text of Ubayy ibn Ka‘b were the Fatihal-kitab (the Opening Surah) and the Mu’awwazatayn, and Allahumma innaa nasta’iinka (O Allah, we seek your help) and Allahumma iyyaaka na’budu (O Allah, we worship you).”[2]

3. Wording of the alleged surahs

as-Suyuti has himself recorded the wording of these alleged surahs:

اللهم إنا نستعينك ونستغفرك ونثني عليك ولا نكفرك ونخلع ونترك من يفجرك
اللهم إياك نعبد ولك نصلي ونسجد وإليك نسعى ونحفد نرجو رحمتك ونخشى عذابك إن عذابك بالكفار ملحق.

“O Allah! We beg help from You alone; ask forgiveness from You alone, and praise You and are not ungrateful to You and we part and break off with all those who are disobedient to you.” “O Allah! You alone do we worship and pray exclusively to You and bow before You alone and we hasten eagerly towards You and we fear Your severe punishment and hope for Your Mercy as your severe punishment is surely to be meted out to the unbelievers.[3]

Thereafter as-Suyuti quotes multiple narrations showing the Companions recited these “two surahs” in their prayers.

4. Reality of these alleged surahs

These words dubbed as “surahs” are actually supplications taught to the blessed Prophet[4] by the Archangel Gabriel.

Al-Bayhaqi (d. 458 AH) records that Khalid bin Abi ‘Imran narrated:

بينا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يدعو على مضر إذ جاءه جبرئيل فأومأ إليه أن اسكت فسكت، فقال: ” يا محمد إن الله لم يبعثك سبابا ولا لعانا، وإنما بعثك رحمة، ولم يبعثك عذابا {ليس لك من الأمر شيء أو يتوب عليهم أو يعذبهم فإنهم ظالمون} [آل عمران: 128] ثم علمه هذا القنوت: اللهم إنا نستعينك…

“While the Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – was supplicating against the Mudhar, Gabriel came to him and signaled him to remain silent, so he became silent. Then Gabriel said, ‘O Muhammad, Allah has not sent you to disparage or condemn, rather he has sent you as a mercy. And he has not sent you to bring torment. Not for you, [O Muhammad, but for Allah], is the decision whether He should [cut them down] or forgive them or punish them, for indeed, they are wrongdoers. (Qur’an 3:128)’ Then he taught him this supplication, ‘O Allah! We beg help from You alone…’”[5]

Apparently, the Prophet was praying against the Mudhar tribe with strong words asking for the torment in their favor, so Allah reprimanded him with the words in Qur’an 3: 128 and made Gabriel to teach him these supplications instead.

5. Why repeat it in the ritual prayers?

One may, however, like to point out the narrations that say the Companions recited these words in the prayers itself.

The narrations quoted by as-Suyuti show that ‘Umar, Ubayy and Abu Moosa used to supplicate with these words in their prayers.[6]

The truth simply is that Islamic juristic law in light of the prophetic example sanctions these supplications to be made in the regular ritual prayers (salah) itself, so therefore we find many Companions supplicating with these words. This extra supplication is done on a daily basis in the last rak’ah (unit) of witr (optional night prayer) and at the times of confrontation with the enemy even in the fajr (morning) prayers (some scholars do it in fajr regularly as well). As such one can pray with any words, and there are other supplications also mentioned in hadith narrations, but these particular words were taught directly by Gabriel, much the same way as the Qur’an was revealed, therefore, Muslims generally had more love for these words to repeat in their prayers.

Abul-Hasan al-Qattan quoted in his work al-Matulaat, the narration of Abban bin Abi ‘Ayyash who inquired Anas about these supplications and got the following reply;

والله إن أنزلتا إلا من السماء

 “By Allah, these two are revealed from the heavens.”[7]

We have already seen the precise information how these words were taught by angel Gabriel. This is to highlight the reason for the Companions’ preference of these words as qunoot supplications in witr and fajr prayers.

This simple fact explains all the narrations about companions and their students reciting these words in prayers.

6. ‘Uthman and these words

Orientalists and missionaries usually suggest that the Qur’an the Muslims know today was standardized by ‘Uthman and therefore does not represent the consensus of the earliest Muslims, but only his political authority. With such baseless ideas fixed in their minds the simple plain reasoning that none of the Companions who recited these words in prayers ever made any effort to get these words recorded in officially prepared copies of the Qur’an is not expected to move them much. However we have evidence that even ‘Uthman recited these words in prayers.

Husayn [bin ‘Abdur-Rahman] said he offered prayers behind ‘Uthman bin Ziyad. After the prayers, ‘Uthman bin Ziyad told him that he supplicated with these words and then pronounced:

كذا كان يصنع عمر بن الخطاب، وعثمان بن عفان

“‘Umar bin al-Khattab and ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan did it the same way.”[8]

This seals the deal. ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan  himself recited these words in the prayers and yet we do not find them in the manuscripts prepared under his authority. Is it not enough of evidence that merely recitation in the prayers does not mean the Companions considered it a part of the Qur’an? As already shown, it was only a supplication taught to the Prophet by Gabriel, and in turn, to the Companions by the Prophet himself.

7. Why did Ubayy write them in his mushaf?

Even though it was written in the mushaf of Ubayy, it does not signify that to him the words were part of the actual text of the Qur’an.

Muhammad ‘Abdul-Azim az-Zurqani (d. 1367 A.H.) wrote:

“Some of the Companions, who used to write Qur’an in one or more personal copies, at times wrote therein what was not from the Qur’an. It included the interpretation of what was difficult to them from the meaning of the Qur’an or the [words that formed the] supplications similar to the supplications in the Qur’an, that could be recited in the prayers at the time of qunoot or the like of it. And they knew such was not [itself] the Qur’an. But for the dearth of the writing tools and [the fact that] they used to write Qur’an for themselves alone, keeping from others, it was easy for them because they were themselves free of the danger of mixing and confusing the Qur’an with other than it. Then some people with little insight imagined that whatever was written in those copies was written as Qur’an. But this is not the reality, but the reality is what you have just learnt.”[9]

Similarly Dr. Salah ‘Abdul-Fattah al-Khalidi comments on the status of these words:

“‘Umar bin al-Khattab – may Allah be pleased with him – used to recite this in the prayers. And the Messenger – peace and blessings on him – taught it to ‘Ali to recite this in the prayers! Yes this is true. But it’s not that it was from the Qur’an, rather it is a supplication to Allah.

Words of these two alleged surahs are part of the qunoot supplication. The Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings of Allah on him – used to supplicate with this in the prayers, and taught this to ‘Umar, ‘Ali and others from amongst the Companions – may Allah be pleased with them all. They all used to beseech Allah with these words in the prayers. And the Muslims heard and reported it from them and mentioned it in the books.”[10]

Furthermore, the text of the Qur’an that all Muslims read today (the so-called mushaf of ‘Uthman) was dictated to Zayd and the rest of the Companions by Ubayy and is according to the recitation of Ubayy.

عن عطاء أن عثمان بن عفان لما نسخ القرآن في المصاحف أرسل إلى أبي بن كعب، فكان يملي على زيد بن ثابت وزيد يكتب ومعه سعيد بن العاص يعربه، فهذا المصحف على قراءة أبي وزيد

“It is narrated from ‘Ata that when ‘Uthman bin Affan had the Qur’an written in a mushaf, he sent for Ubayy, so he dictated the text to Zayd bin Thabit. Zayd wrote it and with him was Sa‘eed bin al-‘As who perfected its form. This (standard) mushaf was according to the recitation of Ubayy and Zayd.”[11]

So clearly the mushaf that we recite today, which includes 114 surahs, was dictated by Ubayy and is according to his recitation. This destroys even the remotest idea of Qur’an, according to him, having something additional to what is known today.
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References & Notes


[1] as-Suyuti, Jalal ad-Deen, al-Ittiqan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an, (Egypt: Haeya al-Masriyah al-‘Aamah lil-Kitab, 1974) Vol.1, 226

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., Vol. 1, 227

[4] May the peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be upon him. It is mandatory for every believer to recitations salutations to the Prophet upon hearing or reading his name.

[5] al-Bayhaqi, Abu Bakr, Sunan al-Kubra, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, 2003) Hadith 3142

[6] as-Suyuti, al-Ittiqan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an, Vol.1, 227-228

[7] As-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, (Dar al-Fekr, Beirut n.d.) vol.8 p.695

[8] Ibn Abi Shaybah, Abu Bakr, al-Musannaf, (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Rushd, 1409 A.H.) Hadith 7032

[9] az-Zurqani, Muhammad ‘Abdul-Azim, Manahil al-‘Irfan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an, (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1415 A.H.) 222

[10] al-Khaldi, Salah ‘Abdul-Fattah, al-Qur’an wa Naqd Mata’in al-Ruhban, (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2007) 277

[11] al-Hindi, ‘Ali al-Muttaqi, Kanzul Ummal, (Beirut: Mu’ssass ar-Risalah, 1981) Vol.2, 587, Hadith 4789.

Published : June 17, 2013                 Last modified : February 18th, 2014

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