Tyrant Does Great Service to the Qur’an?!

Among the books I’m currently reading is a book titled The History of The Qur’ānic Text from Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments by Muhammad Mustafâ al-A’zamî (professor at King Sa’ūd University in Riyâd). It’s proving to be quite an interesting read so far and I’m learning quite a bit about the Qur’an’s history and compilation.

While reading yesterday I came across something I found very interesting with respect to al-Hajjâj bin Yūsuf, the notorious tyrant governor from early Islamic history. He is a man, may Allah have mercy on him, renowned for killing great Islamic personalities like ‘Abdullah bin az-Zubair, one of the great young Companions of Prophet Muhammad—may Allah be pleased with him—as well as a number of Tâbi’îs (including Sa’îd bin Jubair, may Allah have mercy on him). He is a man most know as a tyrant, a murderer, and a generally evil man. Very little, however, know of the contributions he made to the Qur’an. Prof. al-A’zamî writes:

From Caliph ‘Uthmān we now turn our gaze to al-Hajjāj bin Yūsuf ath-Thaqafī (d. 95 A.H.), governor of Iraq during the Umayyad Caliphate and a man of considerable notoriety. His unflinching, iron-fisted rule won him many unflattering remarks in the annals of Iraq’s history. Ironically he also played a role in serving the Qur’ān, though even in this regard he had no shortage of enemies. Ibn Abī Dāwūd quotes ‘Auf bin Abī Jamīla (60-146 A.H.), alleging that al-Hajjāj altered the ‘Uthmānī Mushaf in eleven places. Closer examination reveals that ‘Auf, though a trustworthy person, had Shiite tendencies as well as being anti-Umayyad. Al-Hajjāj, one of the strongest towers in the Umayyad garrison, would have been a natural target for him; any report issuing from the opposite camp must be approached with extreme caution. Additionally Mu‘āwiya (the first Umayyad ruler) fought ‘Alī on the pretext of ‘Uthmān’s blood, and this makes al-Hajjāj’s supposed changes in the ‘Uthmānī Mushaf particularly implausible, as it would harm the Umayyad cause.

Whatever the truth, the following is a list of words al-Hajjāj is accused of altering.

1. 2:259
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: لم يتسن وانظر
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: لم يتسنه وانظر

2. 5:48
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: شريعة ومنهاجا
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: شرعة ومنهاجا

3. 10:22
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: هو الذي ينشركم
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: هو الذي يسيركم

4. 12:45
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: أنا آتيكم بتأويله
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: أنا انبئكم بتأويله

5. 23:87 and 89
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: سيقولون لله
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: سيقولون الله

6. 26:116
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: من المخرجين
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: من المرجومين

7. 26:167
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: من المرجومين
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: من المخرجين

8. 43:32
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: نحن قسمنا بينهم معئشهم
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: نحن قسمنا بينهم معيشتهم

9. 47:15
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: من ماء غير يسن
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: من ماء غير آسن

10. 57:7
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: منكم واتقوا
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: منكم وانفقوا

11. 81:24
‘Uthmān’s Mushaf: بظنين
Al-Hajjāj’s alleged alteration: بضنين

Long before ‘Auf bin Abī Jamīla cast his accusation against al-Hajjāj, scholars poured over all of ‘Uthmān’s official copies and meticulously compared them letter-by-letter; the variants mentioned by these early scholars do not tally with the variants mentioned by ‘Auf. The Mushafs commissioned by ‘Uthmān did not incorporate dots, and even by al-Hajjāj’s era the use of dots was by no means ubiquitous. There are several words in the above table which, with the removal of the dots, become identical. So then, how could he have modified these words when the dots were absent and the skeletons were precisely the same? None of the alleged alterations bear any weight on the meanings of these verses, and the accusation itself (in light of the above) seems baseless. The following case, mentioned by Ibn Qutaiba, may provide a clue to an alternative interpretation.

Based on ‘Āsim al-Jahdarī’s report, al-Hajjāj appointed him, Najiya b. Rumh and ‘Alī b. Asma‘ to scrutinise Mushafs with the aim of tearing up any that deviated from the Mushaf of ‘Uthmān. The owner of any such Mushaf was to be compensated sixty dirhams.

A few such Mushafs may have escaped destruction, being corrected instead of by erasure of the ink and a fresh coating with the scribe’s pen. Some might have erroneously interpreted this act as al-Hajjāj’s attempt to alter the Qur’ān.

Following ‘Uthmān’s lead, al-Hajjāj also distributed copies of the Qur’ān to various cities. ‘Ubaidullāh b. ‘Abdullāh b. ‘Utba states that the Mushaf of Madinah was kept in the Prophet’s Mosque and read from every morning; in the civil strife surrounding ‘Uthmān’s assassination someone absconded with it. Muhriz b. Thābit reports from his father (who was among al-Hajjāj’s guards) that al-Hajjāj commissioned several Mushaf’s, and sent one of them to Madinah. ‘Uthmān’s family found this distastful, but when they were asked to bring forth the original, that it may be recited from again, they declared that the Mushaf had been destroyed (أصيب) on the day of ‘Uthmān’s assassination. Muhriz was informed that ‘Uthmān’s master copy still survived in the possession of his grandson, Khālid b. ‘Amr b. ‘Uthmān, but we can assume that the Mushaf sent by al-Hajjāj was adopted for public recitation in the Prophet’s Mosque, in lieu of the original. According to as-Samhūdī, who quotes Ibn Zabāla,

أرسل الحجاج بن يوسف إلى أمهات القرى بمصاحف، فأرسل إلى المدينة بمصحف كبير منها، وهو أول من أرسل بالمصاحف إلى القرى

al-Hajjāj sent the Qur’ān to major cities, including a large one to Madinah, and was the first to dispatch the Mushaf to towns.

Ibn Shabba says,

And when [the Abbasid ruler] al-Mahdī became Caliph he sent another Mushaf to Madinah, which is being read from even now. The Mushaf of al-Hajjāj was removed and kept inside a box next to the pulpit.

Al-Hajjāj’s role as regards to the Qur’an was not confined to commissioning further Mushafs. Abū Muhammad al-Himmānī reports that al-Hajjāj once called for a gathering of the huffāz and those who recited the Holy Book professionally. Taking his seat among them, for he was of the former group, he asked them to count the number of characters in the Qur’ān. Once finished, they unanimously agreed on the round figure of 340,750 characters. His curiosity being far from expended, he then sought to discover at which character lay half of the Qur’ān, and the answer was found to be in Sūra 18 verse 19, at the character ف in فليتلطف. Then he asked where each one seventh was in the Qur’ān, and the tally was: the first seventh in Sūra 4 verse 55 at د in صد; the second in Sūra 7 verse 147 at ط in هبطت; the third in Sūra 13 verse 35; the fourth in Sūra 22 verse 34; the fifth in Sūra 33 verse 36; the sixth in Sūra 48 verse 6 and the final seventh in the remaining part. His next aim was to uncover the location of each third and fourth of the Qur’ān. Al-Himmānī mentions that al-Hajjāj would follow-up the progress of the committee every night; the entire understanding required four months.

Al-Munaggid writes that he came across a Mushaf in Topkapi Sarayi (Istanbul), No. 44, where the notes indicated that it was penned by Hudaij b. Mu‘āwiya b. Maslama al-Ansārī for ‘Uqba b. Nāfi‘ al-Fihrī in the year 49 A.H. He casts doubt on the date, partly because of the folio 3b which contains a statistical count of every letter of the alphabet within the entire Qur’ān. Such analysis was too advanced a concern for Muslims of the first century A.H., he argues. Given al-Hajjāj’s initiative in this regard, al-Munaggid’s doubts are ill-founded in my opinion.

Our computer contains a plain-text copy of the Qur’ān without diacritical marks; with the aid of a small program we counted 332,795 characters. Al-Hajjāj’s methodology is unknown to us: was shadda considered a character? What about an alif that is read but not written (e.g. ملك)? Despite lacking these particulars, the proximity of our computer figure with that obtained by al-Hajjāj’s committee well over thirteen centuries ago, indicates that those four intensive months of counting really did take place.

Source: al-Azami, Muhammad Mustafa. The History of The Qur’ānic Text from Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments, Leicester, England: UK Islamic Academy, 2003. pgs. 102-105.


About Rasheed Gonzales
My name is Rasheed Gonzales. I’m a Muslim convert of Filipino descent. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, I was guided to Islam through one of my younger brothers and a couple of friends, all of whom had converted to Islam sometime before me (may Allah reward them greatly). I am married with four children (and the praise is Allah’s) and also a volunteer for the Qur'an & Sunnah Society of Canada, based in Toronto.

One Response to Tyrant Does Great Service to the Qur’an?!

  1. Sumera says:

    Thanks for this! Its very interesting

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