Hajjaj ibn Yusuf and Qur’anic Tahrif

Hajjaj b. Yusuf and His Alleged Changes to the Qur’an

الحجاج بن يوسف و مصحف عثمان

By S. Z. Chowdhury

Autumn 2003.

The above text is taken from the Kitab al-Masahif of ibn Abi Dawud,[1] and is used to forward the claim that the Qur’an was altered and changed and thus the ‘Uthmanic copy is actually a slightly revised and corrected version and not the pristine revelation claimed to have come to The Prophet (SAW). The chain of transmission (isnad) is as follows:

Arabic printed text


“Abu Bakr said that there is in the book of my father something related by a man. I asked my father: who is that man? He replied: ‘Abbad b. Suhayb who related to us from ‘Awf b. Abi Jamilah[2] that al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf made eleven consonantal changes (ghayyara ahada ashara harfan) to the mushaf of ‘Uthman.” 

            For the moment, of particular importance is the narrator (rawi) ‘Abbad b. Suhayb who is utterly discarded (matruk)[3] by all the Masters of hadith as documented as follows:

1. Imam al-Bukhari in his book of weak narrators states unequivocally that he is “abandoned in narrations” (tarakuhu).[4]

2. Imam al-Nasa’i writes the same verdict in his book of weak and discarded narrators: “rejected in his narrations” (matruk al-hadith).[5]                           

3. al-Hafiz ibn Abi Hatim al-Razi wrote: “‘Ali b. al-Madini said: The narrations of ‘Abbad b. Suhayb are no longer taken (dhahaba hadithuhu). ‘Abd al-Rahman told us, Harb b. Isma‘il [al-Kirmani] wrote to me: I heard Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shaybah say: We discarded the narration of ‘Abbad b. Suhayb twenty years before his demise (qabl an yamuta bi-ishrin sanah). ‘Abd al-Rahman related to us: I asked my father about ‘Abbad b. Suhayb and he said: he is weak in his narrations (daif), he is disavowed in his narrations (munkar al-hadith) and his narrations were abandoned (taraka hadithahu)”.[6]

4. Imam ibn Hibban has the following entry under ‘Abbad b. Suhayb: “‘Abbad b. Suhayb: from Basra. He narrated from Hisham, b.[7] ‘Urwah and al-A‘mash. The people of Iraq narrated from him. He belonged to the qadariyyah sect and called to it. In addition to that, he related discarded narrations (manakir) from famous people, which, if heard by a novice in this field, he would deem them forged (idha sami‘aha al-mubtad’i fi hadhihi ’l-sana‘ah, shahida laha bi ’l-wad‘).”[8]

These criticisms and impugnments (jarh)[9] given by the muhaddithun establish beyond an iota of a doubt that the narrator ‘Abbad b. Suhayb is deplorably far from any possibility of validation and credit and thus his narrations are disqualified from any acceptability.[10] Due to him, the integrity of the chain is severely compromised and as a result is utterly rejected.[11]

The Hafiz of Kufah ‘Abd Allah b. al-Mubarak made a most remarkable and true statement:

“The isnad is of the religion, if there was no isnad, then anybody could have said anything he wanted to say – al-isnad min al-din. Law-la al-isnad la-qala man sha’a ma sha’a.”[12]

                                                                                                And Allah knows best.

[1] Taken from Arthur Jeffery’s, Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur’an: The Old Codices, pp.117-118. The careful and shrewd language used by Jeffery’s suggests that the Qur’an, although not blatantly amended, nevertheless subsequent to al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf’s ‘alterations’, became a text with “minor recensions” but “not an entirely new recension” which would therefore be sufficient evidence to doubt the Divine authenticity of the Qur’an. See Jeffrey’s The Qur’an as Scripture, p.99 & A. F. L. Beeston, T. M. Johnstone, R. B. Serjeant and G. R. Smith (eds.), Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period, p.243.

[2] He is ‘Awf b. Abi Jamilah (d.146 or 147). Imam ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani writes regarding him: Trustworthy (thiqah); discarded beliefs relating to the absolute free-will of humans as well as any Shi‘ism, Taqrib al-Tahdhib, p.480. Imam al-Dhahabi in al-Kashif quotes al-Nasa’i as saying that he is extremely trustworthy (thiqah thabt); Imam Ahmad said he was trustworthy and fit to transmit narrations (thiqah, salih al-hadith), al-Ilal, 1/134; Abu Hatim al-Razi grades him as truthful and pious/upright (saduq, salih), al-Jarh wa ’l-Tadil, 7/15; ibn Sa‘d said he was trustworthy, al-Tabaqat, 7/258 as well as ibn Hibban in al-Thiqat, 7/296.

[3] This would thus cause the entire narration to be rejected. A “matruk” narration is that narration which is abandoned for the reason that there is an accusation of lying established against its narrator (tuhmah rawihi bi ’l-kadhb); see al-Muqanna‘ of ibn al-Mulaqqin, 1/286; Tadrib al-Rawi of al-Suyuti, 1/201 & Qaffu al-Athar of ibn al-Hanbali, p.74.

[4] See al-Bukhari, Kitab Duafa’ al-Saghir, p.79. Cf. also al-Bukhari’s Tarikh al-Kabir, 6/43 and the Mizan al-Itidal of Imam al-Dhahabi, 2/367 for the same verdicts.

[5] Kitab Duafa’ wa ’l-Matrukin, p.214.

[6] See his Kitab al-Jarh wa ’l-Tadil, 3/81-82.

[7] The text has “Hisham ‘an Urwah” which is a typographical error and should be: Ibrahim b. ‘Urwah.

[8]ibn Hibban, Kitab al-Majruhin min al-Muhaddithin wa-l-Duafa’ wa ’l-Matrukin, 2/164-165. See also, al-Dhahabi, Mizan al-Itidal, 2/367 & ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Lisan al-Mizan, 2/230-233.

[9] Linguistically, the word “jarh” means ‘a wound’, ‘injury’ or ‘lesion’. In the terminology of the muhaddithun it is that area of hadith studies (with its counterpart study of “tadil” [‘validation’]) where narrators are evaluated as to whether they are qualified and admitted as trustworthy and suitable transmitters. An entire vocabulary was constructed with precise terms and somewhat uniform vocabulary. The basic rank (maratib) of impugnment, for example, according to ibn Abi Hatim al-Razi is as follows: 1. Of little weight in narrations (layyin al-hadith); 2. Not strong (laysa bi-qawiyy); 3. Weak in narrations (daif al-hadith) & 4. Rejected in narrations (matruk al-hadith), Muqaddimah al-Jarh wa ’l-Tadil, 1/10. This four-tier matrix is not the final characterization but each scholar had his/her template, formula and pattern. The now most famous and thorough categorization is that given by ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, which has twelve tiers in narrator ranking. See the introduction to his Taqrib al-Tahdhib, p.18 For more references on the term ‘jarh’, see ibn al-Salah, ‘Ulum al-Hadith, p.112; al-Muqni‘ by ibn al-Mulaqqin, 1/286; al-‘Iraqi, al-Taqyid al-Idah, p.159; al-Sakhawi, Fath al-Mughith, 1/373; al-Suyuti, Tadrib al-Rawi, 1/296 & al-San‘ani, Tawdih al-Afkar, 2/268.

[10] Anyone who has attributed a lie to the Prophet (SAW) is said to be completely disqualified as a narrator, e.g. see ibn al-Salah, ‘Ulum al-Hadith, p.116. This includes ‘Abbad b. Suhayb.

[11] It only takes one established liar (kadhdhab) or forger (wadda‘) to render the entire narration unacceptable even if the rest of the narrators were upright or sound individuals. Moreover, the fact that a narrator stands alone in that no-one else has reported it is another sign that the narration is spurious, e.g. see Ahmad Muhammad Shakir notes to the Baith al-Hathith IkhtisarUlum al-Hadith of Imam ibn Kathir, p.81 & ‘Umar Hashim, Buhuth, p.95. It is also interesting to note that Arthur Jeffrey made the following remark regarding the narration of ibn Abi Dawud: “The greatest difficulty has been with the isnads quoted by the author, and although all available controls were applied to them, there may still be some that will not stand the scrutiny of isnad critics. The assistance of Muslim savants in this matter was not helpful for we could not overcome the principle that every isnad that led to a statement at variance with orthodoxy was ipso facto condemned.” He continues: “Much of the material given by ibn Abi Dawud regarding the history of the text of the Qur’an, though extremely unorthodox, yet agrees so closely with the conclusions one had reached from quite other directions that one feels confident in making use of it, however weak orthodoxy may consider its isnads to be…” Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur’an, p.8 (bold italics are mine). Whatever conclusions Jeffrey’s own theories unearthed (which are no doubt highly presumptuous in the least), he is willing to forsake truth and thoroughness for a spurious narration which reveals his unprofessional approach to the study of the Qur’an. Unfortunately, this is an all too observable failing in general Orientalist studies of Islamic texts.

[12] See the Introduction to Sahih Muslim with the sharh of Imam al-Nawawi, p.60.


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