It is reported in a narrative that al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf (d. 95 AH) in his time
changed the Qur’ān at eleven places. No Muslim scholar regards this report to be
authentic. However, some western scholars while relying on this report believe
that al-Hajjāj was responsible for a minor recension of the Qur’ān.
In this article, this narrative shall be critically analyzed.
II. Text of the Narrative
حدثنا عبد الله حدثنا أبو حاتم السجستاني حدثنا عباد ابن صهيب
عن عوف ابن أبي جميلة أن الحجاج بن يوسف غير في مصحف عثمان أحد عشر حرفا قال كانت
في البقرة س 2 آ 259 لم يتسن وانظر بغير هاء فغيرها لم يتسنه بالهاء وكانت في
المائدة س 5 آ 48 شريعة ومنهاجا فغيرها شرعة ومنهاجا وكانت في يونس س 10 آ 22 هو
الذي ينشركم فغيره يسيركم وكانت في يوسف س 12 آ 45 آتيكم بتأويله فغيرها أنا
أنبئكم بتأويله وكانت في المؤمنين س 23 آ 85 87 89 سيقولون لله لله لله ثلاثتهن
فجعل الأخريين الله الله وكان في الشعراء في قصة نوح ( س 26 آ 116 ) ( من المخرجين
) وفي قصة لوط ( آ 167 ) ( من المرجومين ) فغير قصة نوح ( من المرجومين) وقصة لوط (
من المخرجين ) وكانت في الشعراء في قصة نوح س 26 آ 116 من المخرجين وفي قصة لوط
من المرجومين فغير قصة نوح من المرجومين وقصة لوط من المخرجين وكانت في الزخرف
الزخرف 32 نحن قسمنا بينهم معايشهم فغيرها معيشتهم وكانت في الذين كفروا محمد 15
من ماء غير ياسن فغيرها من ماء غير آسن وكانت في الحديد الحديد 7 فالذين آمنوا منكم
واتقوا لهم أجر كبير فغيرها وأنفقوا وكانت في إذا الشمس كورت الشمس 24 وما هو على
الغيب بظنين فغيرها بضنين
‘Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah says that al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf changed the mushaf of
‘Uthmān at eleven places. He changed لَمْ يَتَسََنَّ
to لم لَمْ يَتَسَنَّه in (2:259);
شَرِيْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجَا to شِرْعَةً
هُوَ الذِّي ينُْشِرُكُمْ to هُوَ
الذِّي يُسَيِّرُكُمْ (10:22)
أَنَا آتِيْكُمْ بِتَأوِيْلِهِ to
أَنَا أُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِتَأوِيْلِه (12:45);
سَيَقُوْلُوْنَ لِله لِله لِله to
الله الله سَيَقُوْلُوْنَ لِله (23:85,
مِنَ المُخْرَجِيْنَ to مِنَ الْمَرجُوْمِيْن (26:116)
in the tale of Noah; مِنَ الْمَرجُوْمِيْن to
مِنَ المُخْرَجِيْنَ (26:167)
in the tale of Lot. نَحْنُ قَسَمْنَا بَيْنَهُمْ مَعَايِشَهُمْ
to نَحْنُ قَسَمْنَا مَعِيْشَتَهُمْ (43:32);
مِنْ مَاءٍ غَيْرِ يَاسِنٍ to مِنْ
مَاءٍ غَيْرِ آسِنٍ (47:15);
فَالذِّيْنَ آمَنُوْا مِنْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوْا لَهُمْ أَجْرٌ
كَبِيْرٌ to فَالذِّيْنَ آمَنُوْا مِنْكُمْ
وَأَنْفَقُوْا ا لَهُمْ أَجْرٌ كَبِيْرٌ (57:7);
وَمَا هُوَ عَلَى الغَيْبِ to وَمَا
هُوَ عَلَى الغَيْبِ بِضَنِيْنَ (81:24).
III. Existing Criticism
Scholars have pointed out the following flaws in the matn and isnād of this
A. Criticism on the Matn
Following is a summary of some weighty criticisms on
the matn of this narrative:
expresses the view that how can it can imagined that the Muslim community or
those in power would have remained silent at these changes, had they actually
similarly asserts that al-Hajjāj would have been opposed in his time or later,
if he had made these alleged changes.
adds that if it is supposed that the companions and followers living in Iraq
kept silent fearing the brutality of al-Hajjāj, how can it be imagined that
those living in other cities kept silent? And if it is somehow supposed that
they too feared him, then after his death this fear would have vanished; why
would they not have spoken out then? Furthermore, if it supposed that the
companions and followers as well as the scholars kept silent for some reason,
then what could have been the reason for the caliph of the Muslims to remain
silent on a deed of one of his governors? Were not the Umayyads blessed with a
single God-fearing caliph who could set right the change made by al-Hajjāj?
asserts that al-Hajjāj was too ineffective to accomplish such a monumental feat.
How could he have the power to do such a thing given the pervasive nature of the
Qur’ānic text in the Muslim empire? He also asks how could historians not have
recorded this incident had it taken place and critics not criticized it.
Moreover, no Muslim of the era of al-Hajjāj has narrated this incident and how
could later Muslims have overlooked this deed? Even if it is supposed that he
had collected every single copy of the Qur’ān and changed it, how could he have
erased what was in the hearts?
is of the view that if these alterations really took place, would not the
Abbassids have exploited them to defame the Umayyads?
3. According to Mahmūd Ziyādah,
how could historians who have not spared al-Hajjāj in criticizing some of his
deeds about which there can be two opinions have spared him in this matter and
not vehemently condemned him for this?
4. According to A‘zamī,
the use of diacritics had not become very common in the era of al-Hajjāj. There
are many words in the list which become identical to one another if these
diacritics are removed. Examples include:
i. ينُْشِرُكُمْ and يُسَيِّرُكُمْ(10:22)
ii. آتِيْكُمْ بِتَأوِيْلِهِand
أُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِتَأوِيْلِه (12:45)
iii. مَعَايِشَهُمْ and مَعِيْشَتَهُمْ
5. According to A‘zamī
none of these alterations change the meaning of the respective verses and hence
the “accusation itself seems baseless.”
6. Al-Bāqillānī says that this is a big lie
concocted against al-Hajjāj about whom there are contrary reports recorded in
history. In this regard, he reports that when al-Hajjāj was deputed as the
governor of Iraq, he took measures to preserve the original Qur’ānic text. He in
fact launched a campaign to bring all masāhif of Iraq in accordance with the
‘Uthmānic text. He goes on to record some incidents which show his resolve in
i. When al-Hajjāj saw that the masāhif of Kufah had
some spurious verses written in them he instituted a committee from the
memorizers and scribes of Basrah which included al-Hasan al-Basrī (d. 110 AH)
(who headed the committee), Abū al-‘Āliyah (90 / 93 AH),
Nasr ibn ‘Āsim (d. 89 AH), ‘Āsim al-Jahdarī, Ali ibn
‘Asma‘, Mālik ibn Dīnār
(d. 127 AH). They were ordered by al-Hajjāj to write out new masāhif and then
present them for comparison with the mushaf of ‘Uthmān (rta) which was summoned
from Madīnah from his descendents. If they mutually differed with one another
they were told by al-Hajjāj to elicit the opinion of al-Hasan al-Basrī and
consider it as final. After matching with the mushaf of ‘Uthmān, the memorizers
and scribes who were called changed the current masāhif of Iraq at eleven places
at the behest of al-Hasan and his committee.
ii. Al-Hajjāj deputed ‘Asim al-Jahdarī (d. 128 AH), Nājiyāh
ibn Rumh and ‘Alī ibn Asma‘ to destroy all the masāhif which were not in
conformity with the mushaf of ‘Uthmān (rta) and pay their respective owners a
compensation of sixty dirhams.
iii. Once al-Hajjāj asked Yahyā ibn Ya‘mur if he heard from him any mistake
in reading the Qur’ān. When Yahyā pointed out one,
al-Hajjāj emphatically declared that in future this would never happen.
Al-Bāqillānī while defending al-Hajjāj with regard to this allegation goes on
to say that perhaps al-Hajjāj had deleted verses which were not mutawātir or had
deleted abrogated verses in the masāhif of Iraq.
8. Al-Bāqillānī asks what good were these changes when none of them related
to the affirmation of the Umayyad caliphate (of which al-Hajjāj was an obedient
servant) and the refutation of the Abbasid caliphate.
B. Criticism on the isnād
Following is a summary of some weighty criticism on
the isnād of this narrative:
while referring to Ibn Hajar,
has pointed out that ‘Awf had Shiite tendencies and was also anti-Umayyad; since
al-Hajjāj was a pillar of the Umayyad dynasty, he would have been a natural
target for him.
2. Jamāl ibn Muhammad has pointed out that one of the narrators of the report
‘Abbād ibn Suhayb is matrūk al-hadīth.
IV. Further Criticism
In this section, I will attempt to present some criticisms on this narrative
that come to my own mind.
Criticism on the matn
In this regard, it needs to be appreciated that had this report been true,
such is the nature of this incident that it would have been reported by many
people. As per a permanent principle of authorities in judging reports, if an
incident is of an important and pervasive nature, then it should be reported by
many people and if it is reported by a few, then this casts doubt on the
authenticity of the incident itself.
The incident under discussion is one such happening. Had al-Hajjāj done such
a thing it would have been reported by a large number of people. There should
have been some reference to it in the six canonical collections of Hadīth or
even in secondary ones. On the contrary, we find only a single person reporting
it. Not only that, the chain of narration is one person to the other in all its
sections. In this chain too, at least two narrators ‘Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah and
‘Abbād ibn Suhayb are suspect.
It may also be noted that al-Hajjāj seems to have launched an extensive
campaign in Irāq to rid the masāhif of spurious and erroneous verses. As noted
earlier, al-Baqillānī has already recorded some of these measures. It may
further be kept in mind that al-Hajjāj had appointed Rāshid al-Himmānī (also
called Rāshid al-Qārī) to keep an eye on the masāhif
and also to correct them.
In the presence of this data, this allegation on him seems even more baseless.
Criticism on the isnād
Mustafā A‘zmī and Jamāl ibn Muhammad have very briefly referred to the
suspect nature of ‘Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah and ‘Abbād ibn Suhayb. Here are the
‘Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah
Though the muhaddithūn have generally regarded ‘Awf
ibn Abī Jamīlah to be a trustworthy person, here is some contrary evidence to
Abū Zur‘ah and al-‘Uqaylī have mentioned him in their respective books both
قلت فعوف بن أبي جميلة قال ليس بذاك
I asked: “[What about] ‘Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah?” He
[al-Dāraqutnī] replied: “laysa bi dhāka.”
عوف بن أبي جميلة الأعرابي يتناول بيمينه ويساره من رأي البصرة
‘Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah al-A‘rābī would [carelessly]
accept narratives from his right and left from the opinion of the [people of]
Basrah and Kūfah.
قال بعضهم يرفع
أمره إنه ليجيء عن الحسن بشيء ما يجيء به أحد
Some of them are of the opinion that he is not
trustworthy. He narrates from al-Hasan what no one else ever has.
‘Abbād ibn Suhayb
Ibn Abī Hatim says that Abū Bakr ‘Abbād ibn Suhayb al-Kulaybī is da‘if al-hadīth,
munkar al-hadīth, turika hadithuhū.
Ibn ‘Adī says that Ibn Hammād told him that he is matrūk al-hadīth and also
records that ‘Alī ibn ‘Abdullāh abandoned a hundred thousand of his narratives
out of which fifty thousand were from ‘Abbād. Ibn ‘Adī also says that in spite
of his du‘f, yuktabu hadīthuhū, and that there are narrators who call him by Abū
Bakr al-Kulaybī and do not [fully] name him because of his du‘f.
have forsaken (tarkūhū.) him.
Al-Nasā’ī says that he is matrūk al-hadīth.
Ibn Hibbān has mentioned him in his al-Mujrūhīn and
said that he would narrate manākīr from mashāhīr which if heard even by a
beginner of this field would be regarded by him to be fabricated.
According to al-Haythamī, he is matrūk.
According to Abū al-Fadl al-Maqdisī, he is blamed of fabricating narratives.
Al-Dhahabī says he is wāhin.
Shams al-Dīn al-Hanbalī records that according to Ibn al-Madīnī dhahaba
hadīthuhū and in the opinion of al-Dūlābī he is matrūk.
Yahyā ibn Mā‘in says that he did not write any thing from ‘Abbād.
Abū Dā’ūd says that he is sadūq.
In the light of the forgoing flaws in the matn and isnād of this narrative,
it cannot be accepted in any way and stands rejected.