NODELKE ON THE HISTORY OF THE QUR’AN                         

                                                   PART III 
                                        THE ORIENTALISTS ON

                        THE HISTORY AND TEXT OF THE QU’R AN 
                                                CHAPTER VIII 

                              ON THE HISTORY OF THE QUR’AN: 

                         I. THEODORE NOLDEKE’S ASSUMPTIONS 


The sources make it clear that Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, received from Allah and gave out the Qur’an in instalments throughout his mission for a period of twenty-three years between 610 and 632 C. E. Sometimes he received and gave out a complete surah, sometimes only a part of it consisting of a few ‘ayahs. Indeed, the very first instalment which he received and gave out was ‘ayahs 1-5 of surah 96 (al-‘alaq). The surahs and passages of surahs were communicated to him by Allah through the angel Jibril on suitable occasions and circumstances of his mission giving the most appropriate guidance and directives. As he received each piece of the Qur’an he gave it out immediatefy to his people. The report of Khalid al-‘Udwani noted before2 saying that he memorised surat al-Tariq (86) while he was still an unbeliever by simply hearing the Prophet recite it is very significant in this regard. Any impartial reader of the Qur’an, whether he believes it to be divine in origin or not, cannot fail to be struck by the absolute contemporaneity of its text with the mission and activities of the Prophet and the development of the Muslim community under his leadership. The Qur’an itself contains indisputable evidence of its gradual but immediate promulgation in parts as they were received.

“A Qur’an We have sectionalized it that you may recite it to the people at intervals; and We have sent it down in gradual sending down”/ so runs ‘ayah 106 of surah 17.

“And there say those who disbelieve: ‘Why is not there sent down on him the Qur’an as a whole?’ This is so that We may make firm thereby your heart; and We have recited it in a regular order”,

says ‘ayah 32 of surah 25.4 

Yet another ‘ayah, 10:15, states: 

“And when recited to them are Our signs open and clear, there say those who do not look forward to meeting Us: ‘Bring us a Qur’an other than this or alter it.’ Say: ‘It is not for me that I can alter it of my own accord. I follow naught but what is communicated to me.”5 

There are many ‘ayahs and surahs in the Qur’an 

1 See for a detailed account , M. M. AI-Azami, The History of the Qur’anic Text from Revelation to Compilation, Leicester, 2003. 

2 Supra, p. 178.

‘ The text runs as follows: “J.,y; oWj J ~ J.<‘-“WI Js-,!_,.<:~,c.;; lil,) J

4 The text runs as follows:~; ,w.;; J !l>l_ll-., .:.+].!”” i.c.-IJ <4.. 01,_;11 ~ J; ‘! _,J IJ_,iS” .:r..iJI Jli J 

5 The text runs as: Jl…..-y.L.o ‘!IC:”f01..,..-i’ ‘-‘W;0″‘ .O.t,f01 J 0~ L.o Ji <l.t, JII.C. .r.1-01,_;, ..:..Jili,W 0_,…r. ‘! .:r..iJI Jli “”‘~ l;;~l, r-+# J:J bl J 
198.                       THE QUR’AN AND THE ORIENTALISTS 

demonstrating the immediate promulgation of a surah or a passage as it was received by the Prophet.1 Indeed the contemporaneity of the text of the Qur’an with the life and activities of the Prophet is so glaring that an unbelieving reader is apt to be misled into an impression that Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, himself composed and gave out the passages or surahs as the situation and circumstances arose. 

The receipt and giving out of the surahs or parts of the surahs were not consecutive. This means that neither are the surahs as they appear in the complete Qur’an were given out in the same order, nor were the different passages of the same surahs, which contain separately promulgated passages, given out one after another. Rather, different passages of different surahs were given out on different occasions so that a passage given out earlier is sometimes joined with passages given out later and are thus included in one surah, and vice versa. There are a few surahs which are generally categorised as Makkan contain passages given out at Madina. The order of the passages in each surah, even if given out at different times, as well as the order of the surahs in the complete Qur’an, be they Makkan or Madinan, were both settled by the Prophet under divine directives and in accordance with an arche-type preserved with Allah. These facts are attested, besides a number of authentic reports, by the Qur’an itself. 

“Verily it is a noble Qur’an, in a Book well-guarded”, so declare its ‘ayahs 56:77-78.2 

“Nay, this is a Qur’an most sublime, in a tablet well-preserved”, declare ‘ayahs 85:21-22.3 

The “tablet well-preserved” mentioned here may be well understood in terms of the modern concept of a “hard disc”. Again, the Prophet is assured by Allah about his remembering the texts as well as their gathering and arrangement as follows: 

“Move not with it your tongue to hasten with it. Verily upon Us is its collection and recitation. So when We recite it follow its recitation.”4

The Prophet is here asked not to move hurriedly his tongue to repeat and remember the texts as they were being delivered to him and is assured that he will be enabled to remember them and To collect and arrange them in their proper order. 

The last mentioned passage informs us that the Prophet tried and was enabled to remember each surah or passage as it was communicated to him. This is 

1 See for instance, 6:7; 8:31; 10:16; 19:73; 22:72; 29:51; 31:7; 33:34; 34:43; 45:7; 45:25; 46:7; 68:15; 73:13; and surahs 58; 63; 80; 111. 
2 The text runs as follows: 0 p.. y\5 .} t<.J’ 01, _,;! ..;1
‘ The text runs as follows: J; ~ c,J .} .1,-o 01,} r J< 
4 75:16-18. The text runs as follows: .;I,} ciu ,~,;!; 1;t,; .;I,} J…….,. ~ 01 .., J-::1.!.1U.., !l_,..;-; 


reiterated in another ‘ayah as follows: 

‘We shall make you recite; so you shall not forget.”1 

In fact he committed to memory each and every surah and passage of the Qur’an as they were communicated to him. So did many of his companions. The necessity for doing so was that the daily prayers which the believers were from the beginning commanded to perform consisted mainly of recitation of some Qur’anic surahs or passages together with bowing and prostration. An early Qur’anic passage commands the Prophet to spend more or less a half of the night standing in prayer and reciting the Qur’an in regular order.2 And the last ‘ayah of the same surah confirms that he indeed used to spend two-thirds or so of the night standing in prayer and reciting the Qur’an; and so did a group of his companions.3 The Prophet himself taught many of his early followers the Qur’an. In fact his preaching consisted mainly of the giving out of the texts of the Qur’an as they were received and reciting and teaching them. Whenever a preacher was sent to any place for preaching Islam he was invariably a Qur’an-teacher (muqri) who had memorized the Qur’an. Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr, who was sent to Madina prior to the migration to preach Islam among its people was such a Qur’an-teacher. The seventy of the Prophet’s companions who were .sent on a mission to Bi’r Ma’unah and were there treacherously killed by the inimical tribes were all Qur’an-teachers (qurra}.4 In the course of time the Prophet as well as many of his followers had the entire Qur’an committed to memory.5 At intervals, particularly in the month of Ramadan, the Prophet used to recite the whole Qur’an, as far as it was received, to the angel Jibril; and during the last Ramadan of his life he recited the entire Qur’an twice before that angel.6 

Simultaneously with this process of memorization the Prophet also had the surahs and passages of the Qur’an, as they were communicated to him, written down on suitable objects like tree-leaves, bones, hides, barks, stones and the like. A number of his literate companions acted as his scribes in this respect. 7 Indeed the impetus to have the texts written down was given in the very first passage communicated him. It emphasizes, among other things, the acquisition and preservation of knowledge by means of the pen. 8

 In another early passage Allah 
1 87:6 . The text runs as follows: u-” )l.i .!.ll _;,..-2 73:1-4.

2.The text runs as follows: “;N; .01, _.ill jl; J .o# ‘j } )l.,li “”” ..,._;;1 Jl u.,.; )l.,li ‘\’1 j,l!l ~ J-_;.lllf,{,

3. 73:20. The text runs as follows: ………. .!)… .;r..lJI if wU. J & J u.,.; J j,l!l c? if u”l r ,z .!.].;\ ,….., .!.-4; .01 

4 Bukhari, nos. 4088-4090 

5 See Al-Dhahabi, Tadhkirat al-lj.ujJil'{, ed. ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Yahya a

-Ma’lami, 3 vols., Makka, 1374 H. 

6 Bukhari, nos. 1902, 4997, 4998. 

7 See M. M. ‘A’zami, Kuttiib al-Nabi Sallahhahu ‘Alayhi wa sallama, (Arabic text), Beirut, 1394. 

200                     THE QUR’AN AND THE ORIENTALISTS 

swears “by the pen and what they write” 

(0J~ \… J ~~ J).2 

Also, the Qur’an is called at least seventy times in it as the Kitab (Book, Scripture, Writing) and at one place Allah swears by it as: 

” And by a Book, written down” 

(J_,l..-.. yi..::S” J).3 

Written records of the Qur’anic texts were kept with the Prophet as well as with many of his followers. The story of Fatimah hint al-Khattab’s having concealed a written sheet of the Qur’anic text at the approach of her enraged brother, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s (r.a.) to her house and then of her having shown it to him when he calmed down and his ultimate conversion to Islam on a perusal of it is well-known to any student of Islamic history. After the migration to Madina four of the ‘ansar were particularly employed for writing down the Qur’anic texts.4 One report has it that the Prophet once warned his companions not to write down all his statements and utterances lest they should be mixed up with the texts of the Qur’an.5 

The communication of the Qur’an was completed and the last instalment of it was received by the Prophet only a few days before his death. When he died written records of the Qur’an texts were in his house as well as with many of his Companions. Besides, his scribes like Zayd ibn Thabit and many other Companions had memorized the whole Qur’an. Almost immediately after the Prophet’s death a number of Arab tribes made an attempt to secede from the authority of Madina. In the wars that followed, the riddah wars, many huffaz (retainers of the entire Qur’an in memory) died. Hence, at ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s suggestion the first khalifah Abu Bakr took steps to have the written records of the Qur’anic texts arranged in the order of the surahs and sections as taught by the Prophet and as learnt by the huffaz. The task was entrusted to Zayd ibn Thabit and a public announcement was made for anyone having anything of the Qur’an with him to come up with it and deliver it to either ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and Zayd ibn Thabit. The latter, though he was himself a hafiz (retainer of the entire Qur’an in memory), was instructed not to accept anything merely because it was written down but to compare it with the recitation of a hafiz . 6

 Zayd himself states:

 “So I collected the Qur’an from palm leaves, thin stones and bones [i. e., on which the texts were written] and the hearts of men [i. e., comparing with the 

1 96:4-5. 

‘ 67:1. 

‘ 52:2. 

4 Bukhari, nos. 3810, 3996, 5003, 5004; Muslim, no. 2465; Musnad, III, 233, 277; Taydlisf, no. 2018. 

5 Muslim, no. 3004. · 

6 Al-Sayuti, AI-Itqan, I, p. 166. 

                NODELKE ON THE HISTORY OF THE QUR’ AN 201 

recitation of the huffaz] and I found the last ‘ayah of surat al-tawbah with ‘Abu Khuzaymah al-Ansari. I did not find it with anyone else.”1

This last statement is very significant. Zayd knew the ‘ayah in question and retained it in memory; but he did not include it in the collection until he found a written record of it with ‘Abu Khuzaymah al-‘Ansari. Even with regard to the written records nothing was accepted unless it was attested by independent witnesses that it was written in the presence of the Prophet.2 

Thus a master-copy of the Qur’an was made and it was kept with ‘Abu Bakr during his life-time, then with ‘Umar and, after his death, with his daughter ‘Umm al-Mu’minin Hafsah.3 

During the khilafah of ‘Uthman (24-35 H.) a tendency towards variant readings of the Qur’an was detected in the far-flung provinces. Hence he took immediate steps to make copies of the Qur’an from the master-copy in Hafsah’s keeping and to send them to the various provinces. He appointed a commission for this task headed by the same Zayd ibn Thabit who was at that time the chief-justice of Madina. The other members of the commission were ‘Abd Allah ibn Zubayr, Sa’id ibn al-‘As and ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Harith ibn Hisham. They were instructed to address themselves mainly to the variations that had crept up in the recitation, i. e., vocalization and pronunciation, and were asked, in case of noticing any difference with regard to any ‘qyah or expression, to find out any person whom the Prophet had himself taught to recite the ‘ayah or expression in question and to ascertain the correct mode of recitation. If no such person was found with regard to any ‘ayah or expression and there existed a difference in its mode of reading they were directed to adopt the reading or dialect of Quraysh, for the Qur’an was sent down in their dialect. The Commission meticulously followed the procedure and made several copies of the Qur’an which were sent to the different provinces with instructions to withdraw and suppress any variation in the reading found to exist anywhere.4 

Since then the same Qur’an has been in circulation in writing as it has been also preserved and transmitted from generation to generation through memorization of its entire text. The practice of memorization continues still today in spite of the tremendous progress in the art of printing and in photo-mechanical and electronic reproduction and retrieval systems. Indeed the act of memorizing the Qur’an and of learning it and teaching it has been assigned 

1 Bukhari, n.o. 4986. 

2 Al-Sayuti, op. cit. 

‘ Bukhari, nos. 4986, 4989,7191. 

4 Al-Sayuti, op. cit., pp. 168-171. 
202                  THE QUR’AN AND THE ORIENTALISTS 

great religious merit by the Prophet so that even today Muslims can count among their ranks millions of huffaz of the entire Qur’an, whereas it is hard to find among the votaries of other religious systems a single individual who can recite from memory even a whole chapter from his sacred text. Also, since the Prophet’s time it has been the continual practice of Muslims for all climes to complete the recitation of the whole Qur’an through the month-long special nighdy tarawih prayer during the month of Ramadan. No other people on earth have shown so much avidity and taken so meticulous a care to preserve the purity of their sacred Book as the Muslims have done. 

It should be noted, however, that at the time of ‘Uthman (r.a.) the Arabic script was not yet fully developed. The letters that have now-a-days dots above or below them were without dots (nuqat), there were no vowel signs (tashkil/ harakaf) and hamzahs were not written. These did not however cause any problem for the Arabs; for they could recognize the specific letters from the context. So could the harakat be dispensed with for a person who knew the language. (Even in modern times Arabic books and news papers are printed without harakat .)The difficulties that might be faced by non-Arabs in reading and reciting the Qur’an because of the absence of these were however removed before long. Thus, during the khilafah of ‘Ali ibn ‘Abi Talib (r.a.) and under his instruction the famous Arabic grammarian ‘Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali (d. 69 H.) completed the task of putting harakat on the Qur’anic text; while his two students, Nasr ibn ‘Asim (d. 89) and Yahya ibn Ya’mar (d. 100) completed the task of putting dots (nuqat on the letters during the khilafah of ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (d. 86 H.). ‘Abu ‘Amr Mubammad ibn Sa’id al-Dani, a fifth century scholar of Qur’anic studies, states that he saw an old copy of the Qur’an “written during the beginning of the Caliphate of Hisham ibn ‘Abd al-Malik …. by Mughirah ibn Mina, in Rajab, in the year 110 A. H. It had tashkil the hamzahs and the dots … “1 

                                 II. NOLDEKE’s ASSUMPTIONS 

Within the framework of the above mentioned facts the orientalists fit in their assumptions and theories, sometimes twisting and misinterpreting them, sometimes ignoring or casting doubts on them, but mostly making unwarranted surmises and assumptions. The process in its modern phase started early in the second half of the nineteenth century. In fact the main lines of the orientalists’ 

1 Quoted in Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an, Birmingham, 1999, p. 144. 

                 NODELKE ON THE HISTORY OF THE QUR’AN 203 

approach were indicated by Muir and Sprenger whose works were published in the fifties and early sixties of the century. But the first systematic work on the subject was the Geschichte des Qorans (History of the Qur’an) of Theodore Noldeke which was published for the first time in 1860.1 Drawing on the Islamic sources, mainly on al-Tabari’s commentaries2 and al-Sayuti’s Itqan, Noldeke concentrated on the internal or textual history of the Qur’an. Taking his cue from the basic facts of the gradual coming down of the Qur’anic texts, the composition of the surahs by a combination of the passages received at different times and their “occasions” as narrated in the Muslim sources Noldeke attempted to identify the dates of the Qur’anic passages as well as of the surahs. In the process he discussed what he conceived to be the Judaeo-Christian origins of the Qur’an, the nature of the Qur’anic wab.J, the nature and character of the Prophet and the literary merit of the Qur’an, reflecting and reiterating the usual orientalist views on these, mainly those of George Sale, William Muir and Aloys Spremger. He also dealt with the “collection” and publication of the entire Qur’an during the times of Abu Bakr and ‘Uthman (r.a.). 

In tracing the dates of the Qur’anic passages (apart from the surahs) Noldeke does not in most cases follow the occasions of revelations given in the Muslim sources but proceeds on two main assumptions, namely, 

(a) that many of the long surahs are the result of an amalgamation of various originally distinct revelations and, 

(b) the supposed differences in literary style, “abrupt” changes in the subject matter and interruption in the connection of thought. 

On the basis of these two assumptions he severs out many pieces of long surahs as originally independent, assigning them supposed dates. His object in doing so is to show that the Qur’an is, as he sees it, a patchwork of incoherent themes and episodes. 

He follows more or less the same logic in tracing the chronological order of the surahs. Thus, he divides the surahs into four periods, the early Makkan, the mid-Makkan, the late Makkan and the Madinan, fixing the chronological order of each group according to the length, theme, literary style and what he conceives to be the “convulsive excitement” of the early group, the gradual diminishing of the glow and fervour of the middle and late Makkan groups and the “prosaic” tone of the Madinan group of surahs, using as far as it suits his purpose the known 

1 Subsequently edited and enlarged by Schwally, Pretzl and Bergstrasser and published in three volumes between 1909 and 1938. 

2 Al-Tabari, jami’ Tafsir al-Qur’an. 

‘ Al-Sayuti, Al-Itqan .fi ‘Ulum al-Qur’an. 
204                     THE QUR’AN AND THE ORIENTALISTS 

“occasions” of revelations. Needless to say that his chronological order of the surahs differs considerably from that given by the Muslim sources. 

As regards the collection and publication of the Qur’an under ‘Abu Bakr and ‘Uthman (r. a.) Noldeke’s main assumptions are that Zayd ibn Thabit collected the texts, “edited/redacted” them, combined the many originally independent passages into surahs and arranged them in the present order; and that nonetheless the Qur’an is not complete. 
Subsequently to the publication of his Geschichte Noldeke modified some of his extreme and obviously untenable views. A good summary of his later views is his article on the Qur’an which he wrote for the 1891 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1 His first notable modification is with regard to the severing of passages from long surahs and assigning them separate dates. He now recognized that although many long and even short surahs contain passages revealed at different dates, the “sifting operation” should not be carried too far, “as”, he admits, ” I now believe myself to have done in my earlier works, and as Sprenger in his great book on Muhammad also sometimes seems to do.” 2 

He further recognizes that some surahs of considerable length, such as XII, XVIII and XX, are “perfectly homogeneous” and that even in the case of a surah containing separate narrations we are to note “how readily the Koran passes from one subject to another” and that therefore we are not at liberty “in every case where the connection in the Koran is obscure, to say that it is really broken, and set it down as the clumsy patchwork of a later hand … In short, … in the majority of cases the present suras are identical with the originals.”3 It must at once be added that had Noldeke been able to emancipate himself completely from the usual orientalist’s bias he could have seen that the Qur’an is not at all a heterogeneous collection and that it is not only in the “majority of cases” but in all cases the surahs are identical with the originals. 

With regard to his classification of the surahs as early Makkan, Mid-Makkan, late Makkan and Madinan Noldeke does not much modify his earlier position; but he now at least recognizes the difficulty involved in the task and the relative or subjective nature of his work. In particular he notes that “it is far easier to arrange in some sort of chronological order” the Madinan surahs than the Makkan, for “the revelations given in Medina frequently take notice of events about which 

1 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition, 1891, Vol. 16, pp. 597 ff; reproduced in Ibn Warraq (ed.), The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book, Prometheus Books, New York, 1998, pp. 36-63. 

2 Ibid., p. 38. 

‘ Ibid., pp. 38-39. 

                     NODELKE ON THE HISTORY OF THE QUR’AN 205 

we have pretty accurate information” while, with regard to the Makkan revelations, allusions to well-known events are not so clear.1 He further admits that although a considerable number of the short surahs may be recognized as the oldest and the others may be classified as mid-Makkan and late Makkan, with “regard to some suras, it may be doubtful whether they ought to be reckoned among the middle group, or with one or the other of the extremes. And it is altogether impossible, within these groups, to establish even a probable chronological arrangement of the individual revelations …. It is better, therefore, to rest satisfied with a merely relative determination of the order of even the three great clusters of Meccan revelations. “2 


Thus, by Noldeke’s own admission, his chronological arrangement of the passages and surahs is only probable and relative. Even the criteria employed by him to make this admittedly uncertain and probable dating of the passages and surahs are wrong and illogical. He fixes his attention on what he supposes to be the differences in the literary style of the various parts of the Qur’an and speaks of the “convulsive excitement” of the early group of surahs and passages, the gradual diminishing of the fervour and glow of the middle and late Makkan groups and the “prosaic” tone of the Madinan group. In doing so he is mistaken in two ways. He assumes that Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, himself composed the surahs and passages of the Qur’an and that his literary style gradually declined with the passage of time. This assumption is belied by the literary history of any writer or language. If we look at the literary productions of any notable writer, such as Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw or Rabindranath Tagore, we seldom notice any gradual decline in their style and mode of writing over the years. The special style and impress of each writer can be easily detected in his early and later literary productions. If there is any change over the years, it is usually in the reverse direction of gradual improvement in the mode of expression and depth of thought. Any decline in the style of one’s literary productions, if it ever takes place, is almost invariably connected with one’s physical and mental decline. In the case of the Prophet nothing of the sort can be assumed. Moreover, the Meccan period of his mission lasted for only twelve years, coinciding with the prime of his life from the fortieth to the fifty-second year of his age. It is highly unreasonable to assume that his presumed literary style 

1 Ibid., PP· 49-50. 

2 Ibid., pp. S0-51. 
206                     THE QUR’AN AND THE ORIENTALISTS 

underwent such a sharp decline within one decade that three distinct groups could be identified in his productions during this time! 
Secondly, Noldeke first assumes a gradual decline in the literary style of the Qur’an and then applies this criterion for determining the dates of its passages and surahs. Such a procedure is methodologically improper and factually incorrect. Proper methodology requires the taking into consideration of the reported “occasions” of revelation of the different passages and surahs, as far as possible, and collating it with other available data for the purpose. Noldeke has not done so and has often allowed his assumption to override the known “occasions” of the revelations. Factually, the generalization of gradual decline in the literary style of the Qur’anic revelations is totally untenable. There are many passages of the Qur’an identified by Noldeke himself as Madinan that have similar rhyme, rhythm and strain as those of the Makkan surahs. There are of course differences in the mode of expression and phraseology depending on the themes and subjects dealt with; but throughout the Qur’an has a distinctive and unique literary style. Any person having an acquaintance with the Qur’an and Arabic language can easily distinguish any passage of the Qur’an from any passage of any other Arabic literary production, medieval or modern. The utter untenability of Noldeke’s chronological arrangement of the Qur’anic passages and surahs is highlighted by the fact that it is not accepted even by his fellow orientalists. Thus Rodwell came forward with a different chronological arrangement of the surahs in his translation of the Qur’an which was published just one year after the first appearance of Noldeke’s work;1 while William Muir made yet another chronological list a little afterwards.2 

Further divergent dating of the passages and surahs have been made by other subsequent orientalists. And all these are equally untenable and on similar grounds. Nor is the purpose of such an exercise, namely, to trace the psychological development of the Prophet by means of the Qur’an, is likely to be fruitfully achieved; for, as Noldeke further admits, “in such an undertaking one is always apt to take subjective assumptions and/ or mere fancies for established data.”3 

Most objectionable are, however, Noldeke’s assumptions in connection with the collection and publication of the Qur’an under ‘Abu Bakr and ‘Uthman (r.a.). To begin with, he calls this work as the first and the second “redaction” 

1 J. M. Rodwell, The Koran: Translated from the Arabic, the surahs arranged in chronologica/ order, with notes and index, London, 1861. 

2 See W. Muir, The Qur’an: Itr composition and Teaching etc., London, 1897. 

‘ Ibn Warraq, op.cit., p. SO. 


respectively of the Qur’an. It must at once be pointed out that the word “redaction” has a wide meaning including editing, working into shape, reducing, preparing a version and the like. Subsequent orientalists have not only adopted this definition but have effected a transition from it to “recension”, i. e., critical revision of a text. No editing, revision or new version of the Qur’an was ever made, neither under ‘Abu Bakr, nor under ‘Uthman (r.a.), nor subsequently. Noldeke’s characterizing the work of collecting the texts in one compilation as “redaction” is both incorrect and misleading. 

Noldeke so prefaces his account of the collection under ‘Abu Bakr (r.a.) as to substantiate the notion of “redaction”. Thus he says: “Many Muslims knew large portions by heart, but certainly no one knew the whole; and a merely oral propagation would have left the door open to all kinds of deliberate and inadvertent alterations.”1 Earlier he says that it cannot be supposed that the Prophet “knew the longer suras by heart so perfectly that he was able after a time to lay his finger upon any particular passage.”2 And now Noldeke further states that the Prophet “himself had never thought of an authentic collection of his revelations,” that “he was concerned only with the object of the moment” and had no idea that these “would be destroyed unless he made provision for their safe preservation” and that, being a “man destitute of literary culture”, had “some difficulty in anticipating the fate of intellectual products.”3 

Now, Noldeke is palpably wrong in each and every item of his above mentioned remarks and observations. First, he says that none of the Prophet’s companions, not even the Prophet himself, knew the whole Qur’an by heart. It is further said that he did not even perfectly remember the long surahs. This statement is grossly arbitrary and unwarranted. Many of the Prophet’s companions, and the Prophet himself, knew the whole Qur’an by heart. As already mentioned, there are authentic reports to the effect that at intervals, specially during the month of Ramadan, the Prophet used to recite the whole Qur’an, as far as it was received, to the angel Jibril; and that during the last Ramadan of his life he recited the entire Qur’an twice before that angel.4

Noldeke does not seem to be unaware of these reports; but he disregards these and does not give his reasons for doing so. He simply assumes that the Prophet could not have probably remembered the long surahs. In making this assumption Noldeke 

I Ibid., P· 56. 

2 Ibid., p. 40. 

‘ Ibid., p. 56. 

4 Bukhari, nos. 1902, 4997, 4998. 

208                   THE QUR’AN AND THE ORIENTALISTS 

seems to have been influenced by the fact that none in the West cares to remember any considerable part of his religious text and by his oversight of the fact that even today many of an ordinary Muslim learns the entire Qur’an by heart and recites it entirely during the month-Long nightly (tarawih) prayer during Ramadan. 

Secondly, Noldeke is equally wrong in saying that “a merely oral propagation would have left the door open to all kinds of deliberate and inadvertent alterations.” As already mentioned, the Qur’an was not propagated merely orally. Simultaneously with oral transmission and memorization, it was preserved also in writing. Noldeke himself notes a little earlier in his essay that at Makka the Prophet “had already begun to have his oracles committed to writing.”1 Noldeke is here so much eager to assail the Qur’an that he fails to see his own inconsistency in making the downright false suggestion that the Qur’an was propagated merely orally leaving the door open for all kinds of deliberate and inadvertent alterations! 

Thirdly, the undeniable fact that the Prophet had taken steps since an early period of his mission to have the Qur’anic revelations written down, and Noldeke’s admission of this fact both illustrate the inconsistency and incorrectness of his other statement that the Prophet “himself had never thought of an authentic collection of his revelations”, that he “was concerned only with the object of the moment” and had no idea that “these would be destroyed unless he made provision for their preservation”, and that, being a “man destitute of literary culture” had “some difficulty in anticipating the fate of intellectual products.” It is not at all true that the Prophet was “concerned only with the object of the moment”. Not to mention his famous saying: “Convey from me even if it be an ‘ayah”, the Qur’an itself squarely belies this assumption. 

“And this Qur’an has been communicated to me”, says its ‘ayah 6:19, “that I may warn you therewith and those whom it reaches 

~ ,y J ” ~JJ:,~ .JT_;ll I.U Jl ..r-} J). 

And conscious of this fact he arranged for having each and every passage of the Qur’an as it came down to him to be written down. Moreover, as an additional, and under the circumstances safer mode of preservation, he committed to memory each and every passage as it was revealed to him and taught his followers to do so. In fact, of all the Prophets and religious teachers, he is the only one who memorized his scripture and made it a religious duty for his followers to 

1 Ibn Warraq, op. cit., p. 40. 


memorize at least a good portion of it; for the obligatory prayers of the Muslims cannot be performed except on memorizing parts of the Qur’an. Also, great religious merit was attached to memorizing the whole Qur’an. Such provision is not to be found in the teachings of any other religious teacher. And as a result of such behest of the Prophet, thousands of Muslims do in fact commit the entire Qur’an to memory even today. Noldeke is totally wrong in saying that no Muslim, not even the Prophet, knew the whole Qur’an by heart. As mentioned earlier, the Prophet and many of his companions knew the whole Qur’an by heart. When he died, the whole Qur’an was preserved through systematic memorization as well as in writing on suitable materials; though the written materials were not collected in one compilation. The very fact that the Qur’anic revelations continued to come till the last few days of his life meant that the collection of the complete texts in one compilation had to be effected only after his death. That is exactly what was eventually done. Nothing could be farther from the truth than Noldeke’s statement that the “idea that the revelations would be destroyed” unless provision was made for their safe preservation “did not enter” the Prophet’s mind. 

Noldeke also gives a twist to the account of Zayd ibn Thabit’s work of collection under Abu Bakr and says that Zayd collected the revelations from copies written on flat stones, pieces of leather, ribs of palm-leaves and such-like material, “but chiefly ‘from the breasts of men’ , i. e., from their memory. From these he wrote a fair copy, which he gave to Abu Bakr…. This redaction, commonly called as-suhuf (the leaves’), had from the first no canonical authority; and its internal arrangement can only be conjectured. “1 

Clearly the statement is based on the famous statement of Zayd given in Bukhari and noted earlier; but Noldeke gives a subde twist by using the word “chiefly” before” from the breasts of men, i. ,e., from their memory”, thereby giving the impression that part of the Qur’an was collected from written copies but mostly it was collected from people’s memory. This was not at all the case. There is no mention of “chiefly” or any other expression to that effect before the phrase “the breasts of men” mentioned in the report. The relevant part of the report runs as:

“So I collected the Qur’an from palm leaves, thin stones and bones and the hearts of men; and I found the last ‘ayah of surah al-tawbah with ‘Abu Khuzaymah al-Ansari. I did not find it with anyone else.” 2 

It is noteworthy that Zayd does not say “and from the 
I Ibid., P· 56. 

2 Bukhari n.o. 4986. The text runs as follows: >….,7 ..,.t c: ‘<.fli “”;y /1 u.J… J J Jl.. )I ;J”-J Jl>..lliJ ..,_.Ji ./ ……,.! 0l,.iJI .:…-,=i , r.’ C: l.o.J…I ~ <,>;L •• ;\11 
210                      THE QUR’AN AND THE ORIENTALISTS 

hearts of men” but simply “and the hearts of men”. As already mentioned,1 he was instructed to compare the memorized texts with the written copies and this statement of his means that he made the collection by comparing the written copies with the texts memorized by the Prophet’s Companions. This is clear from the last part of the statement which says that he found the last ‘ayah of surat al-Tawbah with Abu Khuzaymah al-Ansari which he did not find with anyone else. Zayd himself knew the Qur’an by heart and knew that the ‘ayah in question was the last ‘ayah of surat al-Tawbah; but he did not include it in the collection until he found a written copy of it. This shows the extreme care taken in making the collection and in ensuring that nothing but the texts preserved in writing as well as in memory was included in it. 

As regards the preparation and distribution of authorized copies of the Qur’an during the khilafah of ‘Othman, Noldeke makes a number of assumptions. First, he says that Zayd ibn Thabit and the other members of the commission who were entrusted with the task “brought together as many copies as they could lay their hands on, and prepared an edition which was to be canonical for all Muslims .. “2

Then he says that “we have no trustworthy information” about how they carried out the work. “It now seems to me highly probable”, asserts Noldeke, “that this second redaction took this simple form: Zaid read off from the codex which he had previously written, and his associates, simultaneously or successively, wrote one copy each to his dictation. These I suppose, were the three copies which, we are informed, were sent to the capitals Damascus, Basra, and Kufa … “3 

Now, these two statements of Noldeke are clearly confusing and inconsistent. If Zayd and his associates got hold of as many codices as possible and prepared an edition out of them, then the second statement that Zayd read out from the codex previously made and his colleagues simply made copies on his dictation is incorrect and confusing. In fact, as already mentioned, they used the previously made copy to prepare authorized copies for sending them to the different provinces, making the spelling and vocalization uniform in order to eliminate the differences in readings that had cropped up. It was neither a “second redaction” nor “an edition” as Noldeke calls it. No alteration of, addition to or subtraction from the existing text was made. The sources describe the details of how the 

1 Supra, p. 200. 

2 Ibn Warraq, op. cit., p. 57.

‘ Ibid. 


                  NODELKE ON THE HISTORY OF THE QUR’AN 211 

work was done. Noldeke’s statement that we have “no trustworthy information” about it is not correct; and what he states under the proviso “It now seems to me highly probable” is in fact only a contradiction of what he states earlier as the preparation of an “edition” on the basis of as many codices as possible. Both his contradictory statements are symptomatic of his attempts at confusing and twisting the facts. 

About the arrangement of the texts Noldeke observes that a subject-wise classification was impracticable because of the variety of subjects dealt with in a surah; while a “chronological arrangement was out of the question, because the chronology of the older pieces must have been imperfectly known, and because in some cases passages of different dates had been joined together … The pieces were accordingly arranged in indiscriminate order … The combination of pieces of different origin may proceed partly from the possessors of the codices from which Zaid compiled his first complete copy, partly from Zaid himself.”1 

This last statement of Noldeke is a further admission on his part that the so-called “codices”, i. e., the written copies with the Companions, were used for making the “first complete copy” under Abu Bakr, not what is called the “second redaction” or “an edition” under ‘Uthman. Also, Noldeke’s present statement about the impracticability of arranging the Qur’anic passages in chronological order highlights the indefinite and conjectural nature of his own chronological arrangement of the surahs and passages of the Qur’an. Be that as it may, his statement that Zayd or the possessors of the codices arranged the Qur’anic pieces in indiscriminate order or combined the pieces of different origin as they thought fit is completely wrong and contrary to a number of well-established facts. 

First, not only most short surahs and surahs of medium length, but some of the long surahs were revealed in full.

 Second, the Prophet had been giving out the Qur’anic passages and surahs to his followers for a period of twenty-three years, teaching them to recite and memorize them and repeatedly emphasizing that the surahs and passages constituted a K.itab (Scripture). He and the believers had also been regularly saying the daily and weekly congregational prayers reciting the surahs . It is therefore absurd to suppose that he washed his hands off by simply giving out the passages and did not indicate how to arrange them in surahs and in the Book. 

Third, Zayd and those whom Noldeke calls “possessors of the codices” were none else than the Prophet’s scribes and Companions to whom he gave out the 
1 Ibid., PP· 57-58. 
212.                       THE QUR’AN AND THE ORIENTALISTS 

passages. It can by no means be supposed that they had no other interest in the matter except their employment as scribes and did not enquire of the Prophet whether the pieces they were required to write were each independent surahs or parts of surahs, and if the latter, which pieces belonged to which surahs and in what order. In fact, there is a positive evidence that the Prophet, when he gave out separate passages of the Qur’an, indicated the surahs and the order in which they were to be placed.1 

Fourth, and more positively, we have a number of reports mentioning the specific surahs which the Prophet used to recite in full in some of the prayers. Thus, one report says that sometimes he used to recite surahs 50 (Qaf and 54 (al-Qamar) in the Id prayers.2 Another report says that he used to recite surahs 32 (al-Sajdah) and 76 (al-Insan) in the early dawn prayer and surahs 62 and 63 (al-Jumu’ah and al-Munafiqun) in the congregational prayer on Friday.3 Other reports also mention the Prophet’s recitation of surat al-Baqarah (no. 2), surat ‘AI ‘Imran (no. 3), surat al-Isra’ (no. 17), surat al-Kahf (no. 18), surat Maryam (no.19), surah Ta-Ha (no. 20) and surah al-‘Anbiya’ (no. 21) completely and often consecutively in different prayers.4 Bint ‘Abd al-Rahman and Bint Harithah ibn al-Nu’man state that they both memorized surah 50 (Qaf simply by listening to it from the Prophet who used to recite it in his sermon (khutbah) on Friday.5 These facts indisputably establish the fact that the passages had been arranged into surahs during the time of the Prophet. 

Fifth, there are a number of reports that the Prophet mentioned the special merits of reciting some surahs. Thus, he specially recommended the frequent ,recitation of surat al-Baqarah and ‘AI ‘Imran (nos. 2 and 3) saying that they would be of immense merit for their reciters on the Day of Judgement. 6 Another group of reports speak about the Prophet’s having attached special merit for reciting surat al-Fatihah and the last three ‘ayahs of surah al-Baqarah.7 The very fact that the first surah of the Qur’an was called by the Prophet al-Fatihah or Fatihah al-K.itab (the Opener or the Opening Chapter of the Book) proves that he had arranged the order of the surahs in the Book. A yet another report speaks about the Prophet’s mentioning the merits of reciting surat al-Kahf (no. 18).8 

1 Musnad, I, pp. 57, 69. See also al-Sayuti, op. cit., pp. 174-180. 

2 Muslim, no. 891. 

‘ Ibid., nos. 879-880; Bukhari, nos. 891, 1068. 

4 See al-Sayuti, Al-Itqan, l, pp. 172-173.

‘ Muslim, nos. 872-873. 

6 Muslim, nos. 804-805. 7 Ibid., nos. 806-808. 



Sixth, there are another group of reports which show that towards the end of his life the Prophet used to recite the whole Qur’an dividing it into seven parts and specified them as, apart from sural al-Fatihah, first three surahs, then five surahs, then seven, then nine, then eleven, then thirteen and finally the rest from surah al-Qaf It is to be observed that the first six parts with sural al-Fatihah make up exactly the first 49 surahs and surah Qaf stands as the surah no. 50 in the Qur’an. All these reports show that the passages and ‘ayahs of the surahs had been arranged and the order of the surahs had been fixed during the life-time of the Prophet. This arrangement was made by him according to the direction received from Allah. As already mentioned, the Prophet used to recite the whole Qur’an as far as it was given to him before the angel Jibril during the month of Ramadan each year, and during the last Ramadan of his life he did so twice.3 
Last but not least, it is also to be remembered that the collection and distribution of the Qur’an in one compilation was made within some twenty years of the Prophet’s death and all the four of his closest Companions, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali (r.a.) were involved in the task. They had been constantly with the Prophet since the beginning of his mission and had been the first few persons to have knowledge of any Qur’anic revelation given out by the Prophet. They also memorized most if not the whole of the Qur’anic texts. And there are reports mentioning their recitation of long surahs in prayers. It is stated by ‘Urwah ibn al-Zubayr that he performed the dawn prayer behind ‘Abu Bakr and he recited the entire surah al-Baqarah in its two raka’ahs.4   ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amir ibn Rabi’ah says that he performed the dawn prayer behind ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and he recited surah Yusuf (no. 12) and surah al-Hajj (no. 22) in the two raka’ahs respectively.5 Al-Furafisah ibn ‘Umayr al-.hanafi states that he memorized sural Yusuf simply by listening to its frequent recitation by ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan in the dawn prayer.6 It was under the instruction and supervision of these four Companions and successors of the Prophet that the compilation of the Qur’an was made. Hence it is simply unreasonable to think that they allowed Zayd and his colleagues to combine the Qur’anic passages into surahs and to set their order in the Qur’an indiscriminately. 
1 Ibid., no. 809. 

2 See ‘AbU Ddwud, nos. 1388-1393; Musnad, IV, pp. 9, 343; Ibn Majah, nos. 1345-1348; Tayd/isi, no. 1108. 

‘ Bukhari; nos. 1902,4997, 4998. See also supra, p. 184.

• AI-Muwa[~a’, Kitab al-.faldb, Bab a/Qird’ al–!abflh, no. 33. 

5 Ibid., no. 34. ‘ Ibid., no. 35. 
214                 THE QUR’AN AND THE ORIENTALISTS 

Thus the facts and reason both equally give a big lie to Noldeke’s statement that the Prophet did not care to arrange the passages into surahs, nor to provide for their preservation nor to set their order in the Qur’an. 

Another assumption of Noldeke’s is about the disjointed letters at the beginning of some surahs. “At one time I suggested”, he says, “that these initials did not belong to Muhammad’s text, but might be the monograms of possessors of codices, which, through negligence on the part of editors, were incorporated in the final form of the Koran; but I now deem it more probable that they are to be traced to the Prophet himself… Muhammad seems to have meant these letters for a mystic reference to the archetypal text in heaven … The Prophet himself can hardly have attached any particular meaning to these symbols: they served their purpose if they conveyed an impression of solemnity and enigmatical obscurity.”1 Now, this last remark is related essentially to the attitude of Noldeke and the orientalists in general to the Qur’anic wahy which has been dealt with in a previous section of the present work.2 Here it may only be pointed out that had the Prophet intended by these disjointed letters only to “convey an impression of solemnity and enigmatical obscurity” to his utterances, he would have done so with regard to all the surahs and passages he gave out, not simply with regard to only 29 out of 114 surahs. The revised supposition of Noldeke is as unreasonable as is his previous one. 

Finally, Noldeke states that “‘Uthman’s Koran was not complete”3 and says that “a few detached pieces are still extant which were originally parts of the Koran” and which the Prophet would not have suppressed but “they have been omitted by Zaid.” 

Having said this Noldeke adds: “Zaid may easily have overlooked a few stray fragments, but that he purposely omitted anything which he believed to belong to the Koran is very unlikely.”4 

Next he refers to the copies of texts (masahif) belonging to Ubay ibn Ka’b and ‘Abd’Allah ibn Mas’ud and says that the former contained “substantially the same materials” and so “Ubai ibn Ka’b must have used the original collection of Zaid”; but “it embodied two additional short prayers, whose authenticity I do not now venture to question, as I formerly did.” And as regards the “codex” of Ibn Mas’ud it omits surahs 1, 113 and 114.5 

1 Ibn Warraq, op. cit., pp. 54-55.

2 Supra, chapters IV-VII. 

3 Ibn Warraq, op. cit., p. 58. 

‘ Ibid. ‘ Ibid., p. 59. 



Now, in making the claim that Zayd had omitted some “detached pieces” of the Qur’an Noldeke only relies on his supposition that “Zayd may easily have overlooked a few stray. fragments”.

 In fact Noldeke himself overlooks the fact that the collection of the Qur’an by Zayd was not his private and solo effort. He was commissioned by the state and, on the second occasion under ‘Uthman, was assisted by three other equally competent persons. And on both the occasions his work was supervised by the principal Companions of the Prophet and it was checked and compared not only with the extant written copies but also with what the Huffaz (Qur’an memorizers) knew. It is therefore simply unreasonable to suppose that “Zaid may easily have overlooked a few stray fragments.” 

Noldeke’s initial statement that Zayd omitted some “detached pieces” which the Prophet would not have suppressed is a totally baseless, unsubstantiated and an unjust allegation. If by “some detached pieces” or “a few stray fragments” Noldeke means “the two additional prayers” in Ubay ibn Ka’b’s “codex”, it is to be pointed out that some of the Companions used to write explanatory notes and prayer formulas (du’as) and keep them along with their copies of the Qur’anic texts. Noldeke himself admits that he at first entertained doubts about the authenticity about these two short prayers; but he does not give his reasons why he does not “now venture to question” their authenticity. Be that as it may, Ubay ibn Ka’b himself was alive and present at the time of the collection made by Zayd and accepted and approved of it. So did Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud whose “codex”, as Noldeke notes, rather lacked three short surahs. It may also be pointed out that some other Companions had also made their personal copies of the texts which varied in contents and order of the surahs. For instance, Ali ibn Abi Talib had his own copy which he had made in the chronological order. But all these persons co-operated with, supervised and checked the collection made by Zayd and his colleagues, approved of it and accepted it. And Noldeke himself, in spite of his attempts at creating confusion and doubt, concludes: “Now, when we consider that at that time there were many Muslims who had heard the Koran from the mouth of the Prophet, that other measures of the imbecile ‘Uthman met with the most vehement resistance on the part of the bigoted champions of the faith, that these were still further incited against him by some of his ambitious old comrades, until at last they murdered him, and finally that in the civil wars after his death the several parties were glad of any pretext for branding their opponents as infidels, -when we consider all this, we must regard it as a strong testimony in 

216                       THE QUR’AN AND THE ORIENTALISTS 

favour of ‘Uthman’s Koran, that no party-that of ‘Ali not excepted-repudiated the text formed by Zaid … “1 And we also -the readers -consider these lines the strongest contradiction by Noldeke himself of what he dogmatically asserts earlier of ‘Uthman’s Qur’an being incomplete and of Zayd’s having omitted some stray fragments of it. 
Thus, all the main assumptions and theories of Noldeke about the history of the Qur’an are conjectural and untenable. His chronological order of the passages and surahs are conjectural by his own admission and are not accepted by even the other orientalists who attempt at making similarly conjectural and varying chronological arrangements. His earlier and later assumptions about the disjointed letters at the beginning of some surahs are wildly speculative and do not stand reason. His statement that the Prophet did not care to provide for the preservation of the Qur’anic texts and was merely concerned with the need of the moment is against reason and all the undeniable facts to the contrary. His assumption that Zayd ibn Thabit or the “possessors of the codices” combined the separately revealed passages of the Qur’an into surahs and arranged the later in their present order is equally baseless and untenable. And his statement that Zayd omitted some disjointed or stray passages of the Qur’an and that therefore the ‘Uthmanic Qur’an is incomplete is completely wrong. 

Noldeke makes other remarks and assumptions about the Qur’an. Thus, reflecting Muir’s view about the Qur’anic wahy he says that the Prophet gave out the revelations after “epileptic fits” and “it is impossible to say whether the trick was in the utterance of the revelation or in the fit itself.”2 “But by far”, he further says, “the greatest part of the book is undoubtedly the result of deliberation … Many of the passages are based upon purely intellectual reflection. “3

Again, reflecting the Muir-Sprenger views, Noldeke states that the Qur’an is composed of materials derived from Judaeo-Christian sources and is otherwise a heterogeneous collection consisting of disjointed facts and ideas.4 About its literary style also he closely toes the line adopted by Muir and Sprenger and says that the “greater part of the Koran is decidedly prosaic; much of it is indeed stiff in style.”5

Also, following Sprenger, Noldeke states that the Prophet used a number of foreign words in the Qur’an, as is “the tendency of the imperfectly 

1 Ibn Warraq, op. tit., p. 59. 

‘ Ibid., p. 39. 

‘ Ibid. 

4 Ibid., pp. 43, 54. 

‘ Ibid, p. 44. 

                  NODELKE ON THE HISTORY OF THE QUR’AN 217 

educated to delight in out-of-the-way expressions”, and in order to impress his listeners.1 Further, Noldeke says that the Prophet used to “introduce improvements” upon what he had previously given out.2 And speaking about the effect of the Qur’an on the Arabs in general Noldeke observes that “they had outgrown their ancient religion”.3 

And just as Noldeke himself had adopted and exaggerated some of the ideas and assumptions of his predecessors, similarly his successor orientalists like David Margoliouth, Arthur Jeffery, Richard Bell and Montgomery Watt took over from him and inflated his ideas and assumptions out of all proportions. The assumptions about the Qur’anic wahy and the theme of borrowing from Judaeo-Christian sources have already been dealt with. The remarks about the text and style of the Qur’an shall be discussed in a subsequent chapter. Here it is necessary to note that Noldeke’s hint about the copies of Qur’anic texts (masahif) belonging to some Companions and the alleged incompleteness of the ‘Uthmanic Qur’an, the alleged revision of it by the Prophet, the existence of “foreign words” in it and such other remarks have been taken up by his successors and inflated to further unreasonable proportions. The following chapter takes into consideration such inflation of Noldeke’s assumptions and suggestions. 

1 Ibid., pp. 47-48. 

2 Ibid. 

‘ Ibid., p. 53. 

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