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No. of Surahs in the Mushaf of Ibn Masud

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Waqar Akbar Cheema


One of the arguments used by Orientalist and Missionary critics of Islam to cast aspersions on Qur’anic preservation is related to the fact that the beloved companion of the Prophet Ibn Mas‘ood chose not to write three of the 114 surahs in his copy of the Qur’an. In order to understand why he made such a choice and if he considered these surahs part of the Qur’an, the evidence that discusses these issues must be examined. Throughout this presentation, it will be proved that Ibn Mas‘ood did in fact consider these surahs part of the Qur’an by the testimony of the same people who noted that he did not include them in his mushaf. After reading the explanations provided herein, there should be no doubt that Ibn Mas‘ood’s mushaf is in no way contradictory to the claimed impeccable preservation of the Noble Qur’an

1. Introduction

Some of those who tend to question the legitimacy of the claim of absolute preservation of Noble Qur’an often bring up the issue of surahs missing from Ibn Mas‘ood’s (d. 33 AH) mushaf.

2. Surahs missing in Ibn Mas‘ood’s mushaf

It is said that Ibn Mas‘ood’s mushaf (codex) did not have three surahs: al-Fatihah and al-mu’awwizatayn (al-Falaq and al-Nas), i.e. nos. 1, 113 and 114.[1]

We shall deal the issue of al-Fatihah and al-mu’awwizatayn separately. For each case we shall first see the reports forming the basis for the confusion and then probe further to discover the truth.

2.1 Al-Fatihah

Al-Fatihah means ‘al-fatihah al-kitab (opening of the Book/Qur’an).’ Its status is such an established one in Islam that no Muslim can be negligent about it. It is recited multiple times in every salah (prayer) five times a day.

2.1.1 Ibn Mas‘ood did recognize it as part of the Qur’an

Al-Fatihah’s status as a part of the Qur’an is established from the Qur’an itself. In Surah al-Hijr it is said:

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَاكَ سَبْعًا مِنَ الْمَثَانِي وَالْقُرْآنَ الْعَظِيمَ

“We have given you the seven oft-repeated verses and the glorious Qur‘an.”[2]

Here “seven oft-repeated verses” refers to Surah al-Fatihah.

Quoting Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Ibn adh-Dhurays, Ibn al-Munzar and Ibn Mardwiyah, as-Suyuti (d. 911 AH) gives us the following narration:

عن ابن مسعود في قوله: {ولقد آتيناك سبعا من المثاني} قال: فاتحة الكتاب

It is narrated from Ibn Mas‘ood, regarding the word of Allah, ‘We have given you the seven oft-repeated verses;’ he said, “[It is] Fatihah al-Kitab.”[3]

This plainly confirms that the al-Fatihah was indeed a part of the Qur’an in the view of Ibn Mas‘ood just like the rest of Muslims.

2.1.2 Why did Ibn Mas‘ood not write it in his mushaf?

If Ibn Mas‘ood did recognize al-Fatihah a part of the Qur’an, why did he not write it in his mushaf? He himself solves the riddle.

In a narration given by Abu Bakr al-Anbari (d.304 AH), it is stated;

قيل لعبد الله بن مسعود: لم لم تكتب فاتحة الكتاب في مصحفك؟ قال: لو كتبتها لكتبتها مع كل سورة. قال أبو بكر: يعني أن كل ركعة سبيلها أن تفتتح بأم القرآن قبل السورة المتلوة بعدها، فقال: اختصرت بإسقاطها، ووثقت بحفظ المسلمين لها

‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ood was asked as to why he did not write al-Fatihah in his mushaf. He replied, ‘If I were to write I would write it before every surah.’” Abu Bakr al-Anbari explains this saying every raka’ah (in prayers) starts with al-Fatihah and then another surah is recited. It is as if Ibn Mas‘ood said, ‘I have dropped it for the sake of brevity and I have trusted its preservation by Muslims (collectively).’[4]

Thus we learn, if he did not write a certain thing in his mushaf it does not mean it was not part of the Qur’an to his understanding. This is a vital point I will ask the readers to bear in mind.

2.2 Al-Mu’awwizatayn (Surahs 113 & 114)


2.2.1 Ibn Mas‘ood did recognize al-mu’awwizatayn as part of the Qur’an

The evidence that Ibn Mas‘ood did consider al-mu’awwizatayn a part of the Qur’an is too strong. Consider the following points:

1- The foremost medium of preservation of the Noble Qur’an has always been memory of the Muslim masses. Almighty Allah said to the blessed Prophet[5]:

وأنزلت عليك كتابا لا يغسله الماء

“I have revealed to you a Book that cannot be washed away with water.”[6]

Muslims experts of qira’at (recitals) have always preserved the unbroken chain of authorities of back to the blessed Prophet. The mutawatir qira’ats are the ultimate and greatest authority on the words of the Noble Qur’an.

2- All the mutawatir qira’ats do include al-mu’awwizatayn (and certainly al-Fatihah as well). And four of the mutawatir qira’ats can be traced back to the blessed Prophet through Abdullah ibn Mas‘ood. Here I briefly mention the mutawatir qira’ats through Ibn Mas‘ood.

i- Qir’at of ‘Aasim: Its chain reaches back to the blessed Prophet through Zirr through Ibn Mas‘ood.

Please note that the same ‘Aasim (d.128 AH) and Zirr (d. 83 AH) who are the narrators of the reports in Musnad Ahmad, etc. (given below) showing Ibn Mas‘ood did not write the two surahs in his mushaf are the narrators of a mutawatir qira’at from Ibn Mas‘ood in which they did recite the two surahs on his authority.[7]

ii- Qir’at of Hamza: Its chain reaches the blessed Prophet through Ibn Mas‘ood.[8]

iii- Qir’at of al-Kisai: Its chain back to the Prophet also involves Ibn Mas‘ood.[9]

iv- Qir’at of Khalaf: It also rests on Ibn Mas‘ood’s authority.[10]

These ‘mutawatir qira’ats’ certainly include al-muawizzitayn and al-Fatihah and thus leave no doubt that Ibn Mas‘ood recognized and recited them as Qur’an.

Also we must remember;

وإسناد القراء العشرة أصح الاسانيد بإجماع الأمة

“By the consensus (‘ijma’) of the ummah the chains of ten qura’ (reciters) are strongest of all the chains.”[11]

The narrations that hint otherwise will be dealt with shortly.

3. Quoting from ad-Daylami, ‘Ali al-Muttaqi (d. 975 AH), in his gigantic Hadith collection, records a very interesting narration.

عن ابن مسعود قال: استكثروا من السورتين يبلغكم الله بهما في الآخرة المعوذتين

Narrated Ibn Mas‘ood: “Excessively recite two surahs. Allah will make you reach higher ranks in the Hereafter because of them. They are al-mu’awwizatayn (i.e. al-Falaq and an-Nas/nos. 113 & 114)…”[12]

Here, in most explicit terms, Ibn Mas‘ood refers to al-mu’awwizatayn as two surahs, showing he did believe in their divine origin and Qur’anic authority.

2.2.2 Reality of the opposing narrations

Now let’s scratch the details of the opposing narrations and see as to what they actually suggest and where the truth lies.

a- Reports from ‘Aasim and Zirr

‘Aasim narrates from Zirr, he told Ubayy (d. 32 AH) that;

ابن مسعود كان لا يكتب المعوذتين في مصحفه

“Ibn Mas‘ood did not write al-mu’awwizatayn in his mushaf.”[13]

‘Abdah and ‘Aasim narrate from Zirr, he said:

قلت لأبي: إن أخاك يحكهما من المصحف، قيل لسفيان: ابن مسعود؟ فلم ينكر

“I told Ubayy, ‘your brother Ibn Mas‘ood erases them (surah 113 & 114) from his mushaf,’ and he did not object.”[14]

Note the following points:

1- These reports say Ibn Mas‘ood did not write the two surahs in his mushaf. Discussing the case of al-Fatihah above we concluded not writing in the mushaf is not the same as refusing to accept as part of the Qur’an.

2- We learn that even after being told of Ibn Mas‘ood’s action, Ubayy “did not object.” While it has always been an established fact in the House of Islam that rejecting even a single verse makes one a disbeliever and even liable to capital punishment, it is impossible that Ubayy would not react had he known Ibn Mas‘ood to altogether reject two surahs. Perhaps he knew Ibn Mas‘ood did not refuse to accept them a part of Qur’an even though he did not write them.

3- As-Suyuti quotes Abu Bakr al-Baqilani (d. 406 A.H.) who said:

لم يصح عنه أنها ليست من القرآن ولا حفظ عنه. إنما حكها وأسقطها من مصحفه إنكارا لكتابتها لا جحدا لكونها قرآنا لأنه كانت السنة عنده ألا يكتب في المصحف إلا ما أمر النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم بإثباته فيه ولم يجده كتب ذلك ولا سمعه أمر به.

“It is not proved from him that these two surahs are not from the Qur’an. He erased them and dropped them from his mushaf refusing to put them into writing, not rejecting them as part of the Qur’an. It was like this because to him nothing was to be written in the mushaf except what was commanded by the Prophet – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – and he did not find them written nor heard an instruction in this regard.”[15]

4- With the above points in mind, recall that ‘Aasim and Zirr themselves recited al-mu’awwizatayn along with the rest of the Qur’an on Ibn Mas‘ood’s authority. With the same people reciting the surahs on his authority and then reporting him not to write them in his mushaf, the above mentioned explanation sounds the best.

b- Report from Abdur-Rahman bin Yazid

عن عبد الرحمن بن يزيد، قال: كان عبد الله، ” يحك المعوذتين من مصاحفه، ويقول: إنهما ليستا من كتاب الله “

‘Abdur-Rahman bin Yazid related: Ibn Mas‘ood erased al-mu’awwizatayn from his mushaf and said they were not part of the Qur’an.[16]

The same is reported in Mu’jam al-Kabir[17] of at-Tabarani (d. 360 AH).

1- This report cannot be true for it is a solitary report narrated only through Abdur-Rahman bin Yazid. A solitary report that contradicts the evidence based on mutawatir[18] reports cannot serve as a proof to any effect.

2- If one says that Ibn Hajr, al-Haithmi, etc. have clearly graded its isnad (chain of narrators) as authentic, then that person needs to know that even if an isnad is authentic, a report that contradicts overwhelmingly strong evidence is known as mu’allal (defective).

Carefully read the definition of a defective (mu’allal) hadith given by Ibn as-Salah (d. 643 A.H.) in his Magnus Opus “Kitab Ma’rifat ‘anwa’ ‘ilm al-Hadith” translated under the title “An Introduction to the Science of Hadith”:

“A defective hadith is one in which a defect impugning its soundness is detected, although it outwardly appears to be free of the defect. That may apply to an isnad made up of reliable transmitters which outwardly seems to fulfill the conditions of soundness. Someone being alone in transmitting the hadith as well as others contradicting him aid in catching the defect.”[19]

3- Furthermore, this narration from Abdur-Rahman bin Yazid is “shaadh (anomalous),” which is not acceptable. Ibn as-Salah quotes its definition from ash-Shafi’i, who said:

“…the anomalous hadith is the one which a reliable transmitter relates and which is in conflict with what other people relate.”[20]

Evidently it runs in direct contradiction to what is known through mutawatir qira’ats, as mentioned above. Therefore it is rejected as anomalous.

3. Ibn Mas‘ood’s beliefs

Before quoting the scholars on the essence of the whole issue, let me share further proofs that it is inconceivable to have Ibn Mas‘ood refusing to accept these surahs as part of the Qur’an.

1- We know the report telling us that students of Ibn Mas‘ood brought the fact of him not writing the surahs in his mushaf to the notice of other Companions. It shows the issue was discussed. And had he actually not accepted the surahs as part of the Qur’an, other Companions would have certainly corrected him.

2- Other reports tell us that Ibn Mas‘ood would discuss things with other Companions and would not fail to revise his opinion and admit his mistake, whenever it came to it.

We read in the al-Muwatta of Malik (d. 179 AH):

أن عبد الله بن مسعود، استفتي، وهو بالكوفة، عن نكاح الأم، بعد الابنة، إذا لم تكن الابنة مست. فأرخص في ذلك . ثم إن ابن مسعود، قدم المدينة، فسأل عن ذلك، فأخبر، أنه ليس كما قال. وإنما الشرط في الربائب. فرجع ابن مسعود، إلى الكوفة، فلم يصل إلى منزله، حتى أتى الرجل الذي أفتاه بذلك. فأمره أن يفارق امرأته.

“When Abdullah ibn Mas‘ood was in Kufa, he was asked for an opinion about marrying the mother after marrying the daughter when the marriage with the daughter had not been consummated. He permitted it. When Ibn Mas‘ood came to Madinah, he asked about it and was told that it was not as he had said, and that this condition referred to foster-mothers. Ibn Mas‘ood returned to Kufa, and he had just reached his dwelling when the man who had asked him for the opinion came to visit and he ordered him to separate from his wife.”[21]

If this was his attitude in normal issues of jurisprudence, what would he have done with an issue about Qur’an? He has even said:

عن ابن مسعود قال: من كفر بحرف من القرآن فقد كفر به أجمع

One who rejected a single letter of the Qur’an, he (is like the one who) rejected the whole of it.”[22]

3- How is it that his students who discussed the matter with other Companions would not mention this to him and he would then not seek to verify it, while we know of his cautiousness on this issue, as he himself reports:

تمارينا في سورة من القرآن، فقلنا: خمس وثلاثون آية، ست وثلاثون آية، قال: فانطلقنا إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم

“We differed about a surah. We said [and differed if] it has thirty-five verses or thirty six verses. So we went to the Messenger of Allah –may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him [to clarify the matter]…”[23]

If he would rush to the blessed Prophet on differing about a single verse to clarify the matter, how can one assume he would not consult the Companions about three complete surahs and that he would not have been corrected by other Companions?

4. What the scholars say?

In the end let’s have a look at what various scholars said on this issue.

An-Nawawi (d. 676 A.H.) said:

أجمع المسلمون على أن المعوذتين والفاتحة من القرآن وأن من جحد منها شيئا كفر وما نقل عن ابن مسعود باطل ليس بصحيح.

“The Muslims have all agreed that al-mu’awwizatayn and al-Fatihah are part of the Qur’an and whoever denies this becomes a disbeliever. And whatever is quoted from Ibn Mas‘ood in this regard is not true.”[24]

Abu Hafs Ibn ‘Adil al-Hanbali (d. 775 A.H.) wrote:

هذا المذهب عن ابن مسعود نقل كاذب باطل

“The report of this opinion from Ibn Mas‘ood is a lie and falsehood.”[25]

Muhammad bin Nizam ad-Din al-Ansari (d. 1225 A.H.) said:

فنسبه انكار كونها من القرآن إليه غلط فاحش ومن أسند الانكار إلى ابن مسعود فلا يعبأ بسنده عند معارضة هذه الاسانيد الصحيحة بالإجماع والمتلقاة بالقبول عند العلماء الكرام بل والأمة كلها كافة فظهر أن نسبة الانكار إلى ابن مسعود باطل

“Attributing the rejection of al-mu’awwizatayn as part of the Qur’an to Ibn Mas‘ood is a grave mistake. And whoever attributed such a thing to him, his isnad is not reliable compared to the isnad which have been accepted collectively by all the scholars – in fact the whole Ummah. This highlights that attribution of this rejection to Ibn Mas‘ood is false.”[26]

Al-Khifaji (d. 1069 A.H.) wrote in his notes to al-Baydhawi’s commentary:

وما نقل عن ابن مسعود رضي الله عنه من أنّ الفاتحة والمعوّذتين ليست من القرآن لا أصل له

“And what is reported from Ibn Mas‘ood that al-Fatihah and al-mu’awwizatayn are not from Qur’an has no basis.”[27]

Other scholars who have vehemently rejected the notion include, Ibn Hazm (d. 456 AH),[28] Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi (d. 543 AH),[29] Fakhruddin ar-Razi (d. 606 AH),[30] Zahid bin Hassan al-Kawthari (d. 1371 AH).[31]

5. Summary & Conclusion

1- Ibn Mas‘ood did recite al-Fatihah and al-mu’awwizatayn in Qur’an as proved from rigorous evidence of four established qira’ats whose chains of authorities (isnad) are the strongest chains unanimously accepted by the ummah.

2- Ibn Mas‘ood categorically identified “oft-repeated seven verses” mentioned in Qur’an 15:87 as “al-fatihah al-kitab” (Opening Surah of the Book).

3- He did not write al-Fatihah in his mushaf but gave his reason and the reason was not refusal or doubting its status as a part of the Qur’an. This proves him not writing some verses is not an evidence that he doubted their position within the Qur’an.

4- Ibn Mas‘ood mentioned the virtues of two surahs (al-mu’awwizatayn), thus refuting the false notions attributed to him.

5- There are narrations from ‘Aasim and Zirr that Ibn Mas‘ood did not write al-mu’awwizatayn in his mushaf. The same people (along with other people) used to recite the two surahs with the rest of Qur’an on Ibn Mas‘ood’s authority. So either the narrations are a mistake or just like al-Fatihah, Ibn Mas‘ood had some other reason for not writing the two surahs in his mushaf.

6- The narration that says he categorically denied their being a part of the Qur’an is defective (mu’allal) and strange (shaadh) because it is a solitary report, narrated only the authority of Abdur-Rahman bin Yazid, and contradicts the strongest and multiple isnads.

The above details make it absolutely clear that Ibn Mas‘ood did not in any way differ with the other companions and the ummah as a whole on the number of surahs in the Noble Qur’an – the Last Testament of God to humanity.

References & Notes:

[1] as-Suyuti, al-Ittiqan fi ‘Uloom al-Qur’an, (Cairo: al-Hai’ya al-Misriya, 1974) Vol.1, 27

[2]Qur’an 15: 87

[3] as-Suyuti, Durr al-Manthur fi Tafsir bil-Mathoor, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr) Vol.5, 94

[4]al-Qurtubi, al-Jami’ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an,Vol.1, 115 (Cairo: Dar al-Kutab al-Misriyah, 1964)

[5]May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, standard salutation that should be said by Muslims after uttering, reading or hearing the name of Prophet Muhammad.  For the purpose of writing, this salutation will not be included after each instance of the name; however the reader must say it.

[6] Muslim bin Hajjaj, as-Sahih, (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 2007) Hadith 7207 (63-2865)

[7]al-Jazri, Shams ad-Din, an-Nashr fi Qira’at al-‘Ashr,  (Cairo: Maktaba at-Tijariah al-Kubra, n.d.) Vol.1, 155

[8] Ibid., Vol.1, 165

[9]Ibid., Vol.1, 172

[10] Ibid., Vol.1, 185

[11] al-Ansari, Muhammad bin Nizam ad-Din, Fawatih al-Rahmout fi Sharh Musallam at-Thabut, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, 2002) Vol.2, 12

[12] ‘Ali al-Muttaqi, Kanzul ‘Ummal,  (Beirut: ar-Resalah Publications, 1981) Hadith 2743

[13]Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, (Beirut: ar-Resalah Publications, 2001) Hadith 21186

[14]Ibid. Hadith 21189

[15] al-Suyuti, al-Ittiqan, (Cairo: al-Hai’ya al-Misriya, 1974) Vol.1, 271

[16] Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad,  Hadith 21188

[17] at-Tabarani, Abu al-Qasim Suleman bin Ahmad, Mu’jam al-Kabir, (Cairo: Maktaba Ibn Taymiyya, 1994) Hadith 9150

[18]i.e. something narrated by such a large no. of people of each generation that their agreement on falsehood or mistake is well beyond reasonable doubt.
on abc

[19] Ibn as-Salah, An Introduction to the Science of Hadith, Translated by Dr. Eerik Dickinson (Berkshire: Garnet Publishing Ltd., 2006) 67

[20]Ibid., 57

[21]Malik bin Anas, al-Muwatta,  (Abu Dhabi, Moassasah Zayd bin Nahyan, 2005) Hadith 1951

[22]‘Abdur-Razzaq, al-Musannaf, (Beirut, al-Maktab al-Islami, 1403 AH) Hadith 15946

[23]Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 832

[24] al-Suyuti, al-Ittiqan, Vol.1, 271

[25]al-Hanbali, Ibn ‘Adil, al-Bab fi ‘Uloom al-Kitab,   (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, 1998) Vol.1, 249

[26]al-Ansari, Muhammad bin Nizam ad-Din, Fawatih al-Rahmout fi Sharh Musallam at-Thabut, Vol.2, 12

[27] al-Khifaji,‘Inaya al-Qadhi wa Kifaya ar-Razi ‘ala Tafsir al-Baydhawi,  (Beirut, Dar as-Sader, n.d.) Vol.1, 29

[28]Ibn Hazm, al-Muhalla (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, n.d.) Vol.1, 32

[29] al-Suyuti, al-Ittiqan, Vol.1, 271

[30]Ar-Razi, Fakhr ad-Din, Mafatih al-Ghayb,  (Beirut, Dar al-Ahuya al-Turath al-Arabi) Vol.1, 190

[31]al-Kawthari, Zahid bin Hassan, Maqalat al-Kawthari, (Cairo: Makatab at-Tawfikiya) 34-35

Published : September 15, 2013                 Last modified : June 13th, 2015

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One comment

  1. Salaam,
    This is a good attempt on resolving this debate.
    However, I refer you to Muqaddimah – Tafsir Nizam ul Quran by Allah Hamiduddin Farahi, where he has elegantly pointed out the reasons for Ibn Masud not having Al-Fatiha and the last 2 Surahs mentioned in his Mushaf.
    Suffice to say that if you understand that there is a textual coherence in the Quran you can easily understand why the first and the last Surah’s would not be ‘part’ of the Quran: Ibn Masud was simply way ahead of his time un understanding this 🙂

    Jazak Allah

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