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Is the Holy Qur’an Distorted?

The revealed scriptures brought by previous Prophets have, unfortunately, been gradually subjected to alteration and interpolation over the years. In addition to what is said in the Qur’an to this effect, there is historical evidence to corroborate this fact.

In contrast, nothing has been added to or taken from the Holy Qur’an itself. The Holy Prophet of Islam received 114 chapters of the Qur’an, and this constitutes, among other things, an eternal memorial of himself, and he delivered them intact into this world. The scribes of the Revelation, especially Imam ‘Ali, who wrote down the revealed verses from the very beginning, have preserved it ever since from all interpolation. Despite the passage of fourteen centuries since its descent, not a single verse or chapter has been added to or taken away from the Holy Qur’an. We allude below to some of the reasons why the Qur’an has, of necessity, remained free of any alteration.

1. How could the Qur’an possibly be subject to alteration when God Himself has guaranteed its preservation and protection? It is said:

Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.” (15:9)

2. God has prohibited the entry of any kind of falsehood into the Qur’an:

Falsehood cannot approach it from before it or from behind it; [it is] a revelation from a [Lord who is] Wise and Praiseworthy.” (41:42)

As God has denied all possibility of falsehood entering the Qur’an, this means that anything that might lead to the weakening of the Qur’an-such as adding words or verses, or taking them away-is likewise excluded; thus, one can say with absolute certainty that this Scripture has not been altered in anyway.

3. History shows us that the Muslims were graced in a special way as regards learning and memorizing the Qur’an. At the time of the Revelation, the Arabs were famed for their excellent, powerful memories, so much so that after hearing a long sermon just once, they were able to repeat it by heart afterwards. In such a context, where there were so many people who knew the Qur’an by heart, how could anyone claim that it might have been altered?

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4. There is no doubt that Imam ‘Ali had a difference of opinion, in certain matters, with the other three caliphs, and that he expressed these differences in a clear and logical manner, in, for example, the sermon entitled Shiqshiqiyya, one of his most famous discourses.1  But we observe that this great soul, to the end of his life, never said anything about even a single word of the Qur’an having been altered. If, God forbid, such an alteration had in fact taken place, a person such as he would never have remained silent. Rather, we see the contrary: that he continuously called upon people to meditate upon the Qur’an:

O people, for whosoever follows the Qur’an, there is no poverty or indigence; and without following the Qur’an, there is no riches or freedom from want. So throughout your lives, sow the seed of the Qur’an [in your hearts] and follow it.” 2

For these, and other reasons, the great scholars of the ahl al-bayt, from the beginning of Islam to the present day, have stressed the immunity of the Qur’an against any alteration (tahrif). It must be stressed that this has been the position of all Shi’i authorities’ in all periods; and to this day, all the Shi’i leaders without exception uphold this position. 3

In some books of Hadith and Qur’anic exegesis, there are certain narrations which have given grounds for the idea that some alteration of the Qur’an has in fact taken place, but the following points should be borne in mind:

1. Most of these narrations are transmitted by persons and in books that are not trustworthy, such as the Kitab al-qira’a of ‘Ahmad b. Muhammad Sayyri (d. 286 AH). His narrations are classified as weak by those versed in knowledge of transmitters of hadith (‘ilm al-rijal); and his legal school is classified as corrupt.4 Another such book is that of Ali b. Ahmad al-Kufi (d. 352 AH), about whom the same scholars said:

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At the end of his life, he took the path of fanaticism (ghuluw).” 5

2. Those parts of these narrations that ostensibly relate to alteration are more akin to commentaries on verses. In other words, the content of a given verse is brought together with its meaning in a single narration, and some have wrongly supposed that the commentary is part of the verse, having elided it therewith.
For example, the ‘straight path’ of the Sura al-Fatiha is read in some narrations along with its commentary, ‘the path of the Prophet and his family’. It is clear that such commentary is a way of affirming the sublimity of the Prophet.

3. Imam Khumayni has divided those narrations on the basis of which alteration is deemed to have taken place, into three categories: (a) weak reports, in which nothing is proven; (b) forged reports, in which interpolations are clearly evident; and (c) strong reports, which, if their import be carefully considered, reveal that what appears to be an alteration of Qur’anic verses is in fact a comment upon the meanings of these verses, not a change in the literal wording of the Qur’an. 6

4. Anyone wishing to attain a true understanding of the actual beliefs of a given school of thought must study the authoritative books on doctrine and belief as found in that school, rather than looking at some books of narrations compiled by those whose aim was but to gather up material, leaving to others the task of verification and evaluation. Similarly, referring to a few unusual opinions held by some followers of the school is insufficient for arriving at a sound knowledge of the school, as is basing oneself on the words of one or two people who oppose the majority of the authoritative scholars in the school of thought.

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1. Nahj al-baliigha, Sermon no. 3.
2. Nahj al-baliigha, Sermon no.171.
3. The following authorities can be referred to regarding this matter: 1) Fadl b. Shadhan, (d. 260/873 AH; he lived in the time of the Imams), Kitab al-idah,, p. 217; 2) Shaykh Saduq (d. 381/991), Kitab al¬i’tiqadat, p. 93; 3) Shaykh Mufid (d. 413/1022), Majmu’at al-rasa’il; p. 266; 4) Shaykh Murtada ( d. 436/ 1044), Jawab al-masa’il al-tarabilsiyyat; 5) Shaykh Tusi (d. 460/1067), Kitab al-tibyan, vol. 1, p. 3; 6) Shaykh al¬Tabarsi (d.548/1153), Majma’ al-bayan (see his introduction where he clearly stresses the absence of any possibility of alteration with regard to the Qur’an); 7) Sayyid b. Tawus (d. 664/1265), Sa’d al-su’ud, p. 144 (where he says: ‘The non-existence of alteration-such is the position of the Imiimiyya); 8) ‘Allama Hilli (d. 726/1325), Ujubat: al-masa’il al- ·mihnaiyya,p.121(where he says;This is the truth that no addition or diminution has been effected in regard to the Qur’an, and I seek protection from God against speaking the word “alteration” (tahrif); for such an idea causes doubt to be cast on the miracle that was authentically transmitted to us by the Holy Prophet.’).
4. See Ahmad al-Najashi, Rijal al-Najashi (Beirut, 1409/1988) vol. 1, no. 1 go, p. 2 1 1.
5. al-Najashi, Rijal; vol. 1, no. 689, p. 96.
6. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khumayni, Tahdhib al-usul (Qom 1405/ 1984), vol. 2, p. 96.

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