Thursday, January 12, 2017

Alī's Qur'ān: was it substantially different from the Uthmānic compilation?

I finally was able to obtain a copy of a book that I have wanted for nearly a decade now:

When originally published back in 2006 as a hardback, the retail price for the book was $199.95—way too expensive for this retired beachbum. However, during some recent online research I noticed that used paperback editions of the book were now available for under $30.00 (see this link), a price even I could afford.

The first chapter of the book that I decided to read was Diana Steigerwald's, "Twelver Shī'ī Ta'wīl" (the 25th - pp. 373-385). I started with this chapter due to my ongoing interest in the differences between the Islamic sects. One very important development in my studies followed my reading of Wilferd Madelung's comprehensive book, The succession to Muhammad, which compelled me to  adopt the view that Alī was the legitimate successor to Muhammad, not Abū Bakr—this development is quite germane to Steigerwald's contribution.

Moving on, the focus of chapter 25 is summarized in the following selection:

The issues surrounding the Shī'ī Qur'ān are multiple; they cover much more than just the history of the text and its variations. Other major subjects include exegesis (ta'wīl) of the text, the distinction between exoteric (zāhir) and inner (bātin) meanings. In this chapter, I will show how the Twelver Shī'ites (Ithnā ashariyya) have interpreted the Qur'ān and developed their spiritual exegesis. This research provides a comprehensive account of the history while not pretending to be exhaustive. (Page 373)

A bit later, she writes:

The Qur'ān is a divine revelation, but its interpretation is human, hence there have been different interpretations. The differences in interpretation began shortly after the death of Muhammad. Different companions of the prophet began to differ from each other and with the passage of time these differences also deepened in their scope. Also, many groups came into existence in the early period of Islam and every group tried to justify its doctrine by interpreting the Qur'ān. (Page 377)

The section under the heading, "Early Debates on the Qur'ān" (pp. 378-3), is quite good, and prompted the title of this thread. Within that section, Steigerwald briefly relates the well known history of what became known as the Uthmānic Qur'ān, and then goes on to include some informative history on Alī's compilation of the Qur'ān; note the following:

According to many early transmitted reports,  Alī wrote his own compilation of the Qur'ān (Ibn Sa'd 190415: II, 338; al-Ya'qūbī 1960: II, 135; Ibn al-Nadīm 1971: 30; al-Suyūtī 1967: I, 204, 248; al-Kulaynī 19579: VIII, 18) and presented it to the companions; but they rejected it, so he took it back home (Sulaym n.d.: 72, 108; al-Kulaynī 19579: II, 633; al-Ya'qūbī 1960: II, 1356). These reports also pointed out that there were substantial differences between the various compilations of the Qur'ān. The only copy of the complete Qur'ān with verses proclaiming the exalted status of Alī and the future Ima'ms, was in Alī's possession. Alī, known for his vast knowledge of the Qur'ān (Ibn Sa'd 190415: I, 204), preserved this original copy and passed it on his successors. In his codex of the Qur'ān he had reportedly indicated the verses which were abrogated, and those which abrogated them (al-Suyūtī 1967: I, 204). (Page 378)

Now, back in April 2010, I published a thread which explored some of the issues touched on by Steigerwald:

Towards the end of the opening post I wrote:

Now, it seems that some individual Shi’ites take a contrary position; some have even forged both complete surahs and ayat, and then attempted to introduce them as corrections to the Qur’an. However, one should not confuse such feeble attempts with the official position of the Twelvers.

I based the above conclusion on the sources I quoted and/or linked to in the above thread. However, its seems that I need to adjust my thinking, for Steigerwald provides important information which complicates the issue concerning the possibility that Alī's Qur'ān had some substantial differences with the Uthmānic compilation of the Qur'ān. In addition to what I quoted above concerning Alī's Qur'ān, Steigerwald then relates a Shī'ī "practice" which significantly complicates any conclusion/s one may draw:

The Shī'ī  community learned early on that to express their beliefs openly was fruitless. This only caused their community to be persecuted. Hence they started to practice taqiyya (religious dissimulation), which allows a Shi’ite to deny his or her faith under dangerous conditions. (Page 378)

She also writes:

The Shi’ites of the first four Muslim centuries believed that Uthmān excised significant segments from the original Qur'ān and thus the fourth type of variant concerns some words that were omitted intentionally by Uthmān such as references to Alī and the imaāma... (Page 379)

And so, it seems that adjustments need to be made on my part concerning the issue of differences between Alī's Qur'ān and the Uthmānic compilation; but before doing so, much more study and reflection needs to be engaged in on my part.

Grace and peace,


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