4. The “Grave Defects”
With his customary aggressiveness Deedat then challenges the believing Christian to “steel himself for the unkindest blow of all” as though what he was about to say was entirely unknown to us. He quotes these words from the preface to the RSV which are underlined in his booklet:
These “defects” are nothing but a number of variant readings which were generally unknown to the translators who composed the KJV early in the seventeenth century. The RSV of this century has identified these readings and they are noted as footnotes on the relevant pages of its text. Furthermore, where a verse like 1 John 5:7 appears in the KJV (because the translators took it from later manuscripts), the RSV has omitted it altogether (as it is not found in the oldest texts of the New Testament in the original Greek).
Firstly, we must again point out that the KJV and RSV are English translations of the original Greek texts and that these texts, as they are preserved for us, have in no way been changed. (We have about 4000 Greek texts dating back to not less than two hundred years before Muhammad and Islam).
Secondly, there is no material alteration of any form in the structure, teaching or doctrine of the Bible in the revised translation referred to. Throughout the KJV, the RSV, and other English translations, the essence and substance of the Bible is totally unchanged.
Thirdly, these are not differing versions of the Bible. We have heard it said that there is only “one Qur'an” whereas Christians have different versions of the Bible. This is a totally false comparison for these “versions” of the Bible are, it needs again be said, only English translations of the original Hebrew and Greek texts. There are many such English translations of the Qur'an as well, but no one suggests that these are “different versions” of the Qur'an. In the same way we have many English translations but, as a cursory comparison of these will immediately show, we have just one Bible.
We freely admit that there are variant readings in the Bible. We believe, as Christians, in being entirely honest at all times and our consciences do not allow us to avoid the facts, nor do we believe anything can sincerely be achieved in pretending such variants do not exist.
On the contrary we do not consider that these variant readings prove that the Bible has been changed as such. The effect they have on the book is so slight and, indeed, so negligible that we know we can confidently assert that the Bible, as a whole, is intact and has never been changed in any way.
We have never ceased to be amazed, however, at the general Muslim claim that the Qur'an has never been changed whereas the Bible has allegedly been so corrupted that it is no longer what it was and therefore cannot be regarded as the Word of God. All the evidence history has bequeathed to us in respect of the textual history of the Qur'an and the Bible suggests, rather, that both books are remarkably intact in the form in which they were originally written but that neither has escaped the presence, here and there, of variant readings in the text. We can only presume that the fond illusion of Qur'anic inerrancy and Biblical corruption is the figment of pure expediency, a convenient way - indeed, as the evidence shows, a desperate and drastic way - of explaining away the fact that the Taurat and Injil are actually Christian rather than Islamic in content and teaching. Whatever the reason for this myth, we know we speak the truth when we say that the suggestion that the Qur'an is unchanged while the Bible has been changed on many occasions is the greatest lie ever proclaimed in the name of truth.
It is time the Muslim doctors of religion in the world told their pupils and students the truth. There is abundant evidence that, when the Qur'an was first collated by the Caliph Uthman into one standard text, there were numerous texts in existence which all contained a host of variant readings. During his reign reports were brought to him that, in various parts of Syria, Armenia and Iraq, Muslims were reciting the Qur'an in a way different to that in which those in Arabia were reciting it. Uthman immediately called for the manuscript of the Qur'an which was in the possession of Hafsah (one of the wives of Muhammad and the daughter of Umar) and ordered Zaid bin Thabit and three others to make copies of the text and to correct it wherever necessary. When these were complete we read that Uthman took drastic action regarding the other manuscripts of the Qur'an in existence:
At no time in Christian history has anyone attempted to standardize just one copy of the Bible as the true one while attempting to have all the others destroyed. Why did Uthman make such an order regarding the other Qur'ans in circulation? We can only presume that he believed that they contained “grave defects” - so “many and so serious as to call” not for revision but for wholesale destruction. In other words, if we assess the textual history of the Qur'an just at this point, we find that the Qur'an standardized as the correct one is that which a man (and not God), according to his own discretion (and not by revelation), decreed to be the true one. We fail to see on what grounds this copy was regarded as the only perfect one available and will shortly produce evidence that the codex of Ibn Mas'ud had a far greater claim to be the best one available. (Indeed not one could seriously be regarded as perfect in the light of the many differences between them).
It is practically certain that there was not one Qur'an in existence which agreed with Hafsah's copy in every detail, for all other copies were ordered to be burnt. This kind of evidence most certainly does not in any way back up the fallacy that the Qur'an has never been changed in any way.
Firstly, there is incontrovertible evidence that even this one “Revised Standard Version” of the Qur'an was anything but perfect. In the most accredited works of Islamic tradition we read that even after these copies were sent out the same Zaid recalled a verse which was missing. He testified:
The verse was Surah al-Ahzab 33:23. Therefore, if the evidence is to be believed (and there is none to the contrary), there was not one Qur'an at the time of Uthman's recension which was perfect.
Secondly, there is similar evidence that, to this day, verses and, indeed, whole passages are still omitted from the Qur'an. We are told that Umar in his reign as Caliph stated that certain verses prescribing stoning for adultery were recited by Muhammad as part of the Qur'an in his lifetime:
Here is clear evidence that the Qur'an, as it stands today, is still not “perfect” as the verse about stoning of adulterers remains absent from the text. Elsewhere in the Hadith we find further evidence that certain verses and passages once formed part of the Qur'an but are now omitted from its text. It is quite clear, therefore, that the textus receptus of the Qur'an in the world today is not the textus originalis.
Going back to the texts which were marked for the fire, however, we find that in every case there were considerable differences between these and the text which Uthman decided, according to his own discretion, to standardize as the best text of the Qur'an. Furthermore these differences were not purely dialectal, as is often suggested. In many cases we find that they were “real textual variants and not mere dialectal peculiarities” (Jeffery, The Qur'an as Scripture).
In some cases there were consonantal variants in certain words, in others the variants concerned whole clauses, and here and there words and sentences were found in some codices that were omitted in others. There were some fifteen different codices affected by these differences.
We shall now consider the text of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud. (What can be said of his codex generally applies to the others destroyed by Uthman's command as well). His text was regarded by the local community at Kufa as their official recension of the Qur'an and when Uthman first sent out the order that all the texts besides that in Hafsah's possession were to be burnt, for some time Ibn Mas'ud refused to relinquish his codex and it rivaled the codex of Hafsah as the official text.
Ibn Mas'ud was one of the very first Muslims and also one of the earliest teachers among those who taught the reading and recitation of the Qur'an. Indeed he was widely regarded as being one of the best authorities on its text. On one occasion he recited more than seventy Surahs of the Qur'an in Muhammad's presence and no one found fault with his recitation (Sahih Muslim, Volume 4, page 1312). Indeed in the same highly respected collection of traditions of Imam Muslim we read:
According to another work of Hadith, this same Ibn Mas'ud was present when Muhammad allegedly reviewed the Qur'an with Gabriel each year (Ibn Sa'd, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Volume 2, page 441). In a similar tradition we read that Muhammad said:
The words in italics are the comment of the reporter of the tradition, namely Masruq. They show that, of all Muslims at that time, Ibn Mas'ud was the foremost authority on the Qur'an.
Records of many variant readings in the codices of both Salim and Ubai bin Ka'b exist but, as Ibn Mas'ud was especially singled out before the others by Muhammad himself, it is astonishing to discover that his text varied from the others (including Hafsah's) so often that the different readings involved are set out in no less than ninety pages of Arthur Jeffery's collection of variants in the various codices (Cf. Jeffery, Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an, pages 24-114). The author has taken his evidence from numerous Islamic sources which are documented in his book. There are no less than 149 cases in Surah 2 alone where his text differed from the others in circulation, in particular the text of Hafsah.
Furthermore one of the reasons he gave for refusing to abandon his codex in favor of Hafsah's was that the latter text was compiled by Zaid bin Thabit who was still only in the loins of an unbeliever when he had already become one of the closest companions of Muhammad.
Two things emerge from all this. Firstly, it appears that the text of Ibn Mas'ud had far better grounds than that of Hafsah for being the best text of the Qur'an available - in particular as Muhammad had considered him to be the first of the four best authorities on the Qur'an. Secondly, there were voluminous textual variants between the two texts - literally thousands which are all, without exception, documented in Jeffery's book.
Allowing further for the fact that there were about a dozen other primary codices of prominent men like Salim and Ubai bin Ka'b and that these differed radically from Hafsah's text as well (often agreeing with the text of Ibn Mas'ud instead!), we must conclude that the evidence available totally negates the fond illusion that there is no proof that the Qur'an has never been changed. Jeffery's book contains 362 pages of incontrovertible evidence that the foremost codices of the Qur'an in those all-important early days differed widely from one another in many respects. Therefore the Qur'an, too, has suffered from variant readings and in no way can any man with an honest conscience before God suggest that the Qur'an is free from the “grave defects” found in the textual history of the Bible. This is a fallacy expediently propagated in astonishing defiance of the cold facts to the contrary.
The truth is that “the textual history of the Qur'an is very similar to that of the Bible” (Guillaume, Islam, page 58). Both books have been preserved remarkably well. Each is, in its basic structure and content, a very fair record of what was originally there. But neither book has been preserved totally without error or textual defect. Both have suffered here and there from variant readings in the early codices known to us but neither has in any way been corrupted. Sincere Christians and Muslims will honestly acknowledge these facts.
The only difference between the Qur'an and the Bible today is that the Christian Church has, in the interests of truth, carefully preserved the variant readings that exist in the Biblical text, whereas the Muslims at the time of Uthman deemed it expedient to destroy as far as possible all evidences of different readings of the Qur'an in the cause of standardizing one text for the whole of the Muslim world. There may well be only one text of the Qur'an in circulation today, but no one can honestly claim that it is exactly that which Muhammad handed down to his companions. No one has ever shown why Hafsah's text deserved to be regarded as infallible and the evidence, on the contrary, suggests that Ibn Mas'ud's text had a far greater right to be regarded as the best available. These facts must also always be considered against the background of further evidence in the Hadith that the Qur'an today is still not complete.
It does not help to say that all Qur'ans in the world today are the same. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link - and the weak link in the chain of the textual history of the Qur'an is found right at this point where, in those crucial early days, different and differing codices of the Qur'an existed and other evidence was given that the text finally standardized as the best one was still far from being complete or in any way perfect.
Only those who have neither love for truth nor respect for valid evidences will claim that the Bible has been corrupted while the Qur'an is allegedly unchanged. Such men may fondly imagine that the cause of their faith is being greatly served with such distortions of truth. But God, who is true and who loves the truth, will assuredly set his face against their questionable propaganda.