Table of Contents
- WESTERN SCHOLARSHIP ON ISLAM
- WESTERN SCHOLARSHIP ON SHI'A
- SUMMARY OF SHI'A ISLAM
- THEMES OF SHI'A ISLAM AND THE IMAMATE
- THEMES OF SHI'ISM AND THE QUR'AN
- WESTERN SCHOLARSHIP ON THE SHI'I
- VARIANT READINGS OF THE QUR'AN: TWO NEW SURAS
- VARIANT READINGS OF THE QUR'AN: COLLECTIONS OF VARIANT VERSES
- SHI'I CLAIMS OF THE TEXTUAL CORRUPTION
OF THE QUR'AN
BIBLIOGRAPHY # 1:
- SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY, ARRANGED CHRONOLOGICALLY
BIBLIOGRAPHY # 2:
- COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY, WITH FULL CITATIONS
Part One: Orientalism, Islam, and Shí'ism
The Qur'án is a book like no other.
To Muslims, it is the word of God; but so are many other "revealed" texts. More
than this, it is the book of God revealed directly to God's prophet and
memorized verbatim; but so are the books of God within other religions, such as
certain of the Mahayana Buddhist texts or those of the Bahá'í religion. More
than this, the Qur'án as it exists on earth is a manifestation of the
cosmic archetype of the book; but then so is the Hindu Veda. Beyond all of
these correspondences, the Qur'án holds a place in the history of
religious ideas unique unto itself. It is a reflection of the "Mother of the
Book," which, according to some interpretations, is an actual cosmological
realm, primal and primordial, the first sphere of the creative worlds of God.
The place of such a book within the religious tradition to which it belongs
will obviously be a paramount one. In the scope of Islam, the Qur'án is
regarded variously as everything from a mere book of the word of God to the
actual agent of God's workings in the manifest universe and the sole means of
contact with the realm of the divine. Shí'a Islam is one of the branches of the Islamic
tradition in which one finds some of the most transcendent interpretations of
the significance of the Qur'án, as well as some of the most unusual. It
is in the Shí'a tradition that one can find some of the most dynamic
discussions in all of Islam of the nature of the Qur'án and its place in
I will explore this unusually dynamic and, at times, unusually esoteric
element of the history of Islamic ideas in the following pages. Specifically, I
will examine the topic of the Shí'í Qur'án through two
lenses. First, I will introduce the science of variant readings of the
Qur'án as well as Shí'a attitudes towards these variants, and I
present a comprehensive account of the history of Western scholarship on this
issue. Second, I will discuss Shí'í claims that the authoritative
edition of the Qur'án is deficient, and conclude by presenting the
Western academic consensus on this issue. This may seem like a rather tight
focus in light of the great many issues raised by the topic of a
uniquely-Shí'í reading of the Qur'án, but it will be seen
to be actually a large issue. As Ayoub says in reference to the Shí'a
science of the Qur'án, it "is too vast a subject for any comprehensive
The Western student of Islam with little exposure to the languages of the
Muslim world is in a tricky position, for there are far fewer primary and
secondary sources for him to work with than there would be in, say, physics, or
business management. He or she would thus find it helpful, if not crucial, to
precede any study of Islam with an examination of what materials are available.
In this paper, I will bridge the gap somewhat by examining the materials
available in English on the topic of the Shí'í; Qur'án,
thereby both examining the sources on this fascinating subject and conducting a
cursory exploration into the topic. I will preface the discussion by locating
the two topics within their respective traditions. First I will give an
overview of Western scholarship both on Islam as a whole and specifically on
Shí'ism, thereby locating the place of the latter in the general
spectrum of Orientalism. Following this I
will provide a brief presentation of the history and themes of Shí'ism.
This will introduce first to the essential events of Shí'ism and then
the fundamentals of Shí'a theories and theologies. A cursory exposure to
these fundaments will be needed to understand the threads of twentieth-century
scholarship on the topic of the Shí'í Qur'án, which topics
are agreed upon and which are contentious, and the undercurrents inspiring said
agreement and contention. An overview of the place of the Qur'án in
Shí'ism will follow, which will then lead into a comprehensive
examination of virtually the entire corpus of English works available on the
subject of the Shí'í Qur'án. A more comprehensive separate
section on the topic of the Qur'án in Shí'ism was not deemed
necessary, for this issue will be fleshed out in the course of the examination
of the available scholarship on the subject.
SCHOLARSHIP ON ISLAM
Until relatively recently, Western scholars have tended to overlook the study
of Islam. Though Islam has existed as a major chapter in human history for
fourteen-hundred years, Westerners have only given it any serious and objective
attention for a century or so. Some Muslim scholars have tended to see a
willful rejection of Islam in this neglect,
but in fact the main reason that Islam has been overlooked by the scholarly
community is much more prosaic.
For the most part, the eyes of Western scholars of religion didn't even begin
to turn eastwards until the mid-1800s. The seminal event, so to speak, was the
appearance of the first volumes of the series Sacred Books of the East,
edited by Max Müller, which Oxford Press began publishing in the 1870s. This monumental collection of translations of
non-Western religious texts marks the inception of active scholarly interest in
'Eastern" religions, especially Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Orientalist
studies of Islam were not necessarily inspired by this new East-West
connection, but the shift in the spectrum of comparative religion can
nonetheless be dated from around this time.
It would thus be improper to see the lack of scholarly interest in Islam before
the twentieth century as being motivated by anything other than historical
This is not to say that Islam has been neglected by the West; only that
responsible academic presentations of it were, before the twentieth century,
quite rare. Islam began garnering attention from Christendom almost from its
birth. The Muslims began conducting raids against Byzantium shortly after the
Prophet's death, and Spain was invaded less than one hundred years later. Both
of these events made Islam a phenomenon Christianity could not ignore, but
rarely did Christians view Islam with a sympathetic eye. To many mediaeval
theologians, Muhammed was the "false prophet" and the "Anti-Christ." Dante describes Muhammed's and 'Alí's
sufferings in hell in terms almost unrivaled in their horror in the entire
trilogy, and Voltaire's drama "Mahomet"
makes Muhammed commit the most horrifying atrocities. It wasn't until the time of the Enlightenment
that a few Europeans, most notably Thomas Carlyle, began to express respect for
Islam and its founder. Present-day Western
attitudes about Islam, though perhaps not always sympathetic, are at least less
frequently vituperative. For example, the Second Vatican Council, in its 1965
Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions,
took pains to seek correspondences between Christianity and Islam and to
express respect for the latter.
1.3. WESTERN SCHOLARSHIP ON SHI'A ISLAM
The history of the study of Shí'a Islam within the spectrum of general
Islamic studies is analogous to that of the study of comparative religion in
the broader spectrum of the humanities. That is, Shí'ism seems to have
long suffered the fate of being written off as merely tangential to other, more
relevant topics. In 1924, E. G. Browne lamented in the preface to volume IV of
his A Literary History of Persia that there was an inaccessibility of
primary sources and a lack of a concise catalogue of available Ithná
'Asharí works. The twentieth century has witnessed a
gradual advance in the amount of attention paid to the study of Shí'ism
and, though some scholars do still bemoan the paucity of good Western
scholarship on the topic, the topic in all
fairness must be said to be increasingly well-examined.
Literature on Shí'ism was first disseminated in the nineteenth century.
This consisted first of a few random lithographs, and then "an ever growing
flood" of works. These were published in
the main centres of Twelver Shí'ism in Iran, and likely few made it into
western hands. There was a brief flurry of excitement in the academic community
when, in 1842, Garcin de Tassy published in the Journal Asiatique the
text and translation of an "unknown chapter of the Qur'án." This "new" sura was republished the
following year in the same journal, complete with verse numberings and
vocalizations. This excitement proved to
be short-lived, though; discussions of these new suras garnered little
attention and did little to further Orientalist interest in Shí'ism. It
wasn't until 1874 that the first real academic research in any Western language
dedicated to Shí'ism was published, namely Ignaz Goldziher's studies
Beiträge zur Literaturgeschichte der Shi'a und der sunnitischen
Polemik, "Contributions to the History of Literature of the Shí'a
and Sunni Polemic," followed in 1901 by an
article by a German writer, Julius Wellhausen's widely-discussed study of
the Khárijites and the Shí'a entitled "The religio-political
opposition parties in early Islam." The
next notable addition to the corpus was E. G. Browne's four-volume collection
mentioned above, A Literary History of Persia, published between 1902
and 1924. Dwight M. Donaldson, a Christian missionary who spent sixteen years
in Mashhad, Iran, produced the next major work in English. Though some Muslim
scholars have maligned this text (Seyyed Hosain Nasr claimed that Donaldson was
"particularly famous for [his] hatred of Islam), it quickly achieved the status of being
considered the foremost authoritative textbook on Shí'ism, a place it
held until quite recently.
Between 1933 and 1979 there were only scattered publications on Shí'a
Islam, most notably the highly-respected corpora of Henri Corbin and Louis
Massignon, published in French mostly in the 1950s and 1960s. Then, in 1979, a
political event occurred which was to have an unparalleled influence on the
state of Islamic studies in the West. The Shah of Iran, whom many Muslims
considered to be a puppet of Imperialism who was selling out the country, was
overthrown and replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini and a more
religiously-fundamentalist government. The revolution in Iran became a subject
of immediate political concern in the West, and, as well, was the impetus for
an unprecedented examination of Shí'ism by Western scholars. The vast
majority of these studies have focused on political science and sociology, but
there was nonetheless a corresponding resurgence in religious studies. Not only
did this event made Shí'ism a household word, but it also gave
Westerners a new appreciation of Shí'ism. Whereas before Shí'ism
had usually been viewed as a small and relatively unimportant sect of Islam, it
was now seen as a major influence in international affairs.
The new interest in Shí'a Islam prompted by the events of 1979 was not
necessarily a positive one. Though Shí'ism was now a topic of major
academic interest, this interest was often less than sympathetic, for the
Iranian revolution tended only to confirm Westerner's worst fears about Islam.
In 1985, the renowned Islamicist Alessandro Bausani wrote that, though Khomeini
was to be "thanked" for promoting awareness in Shí'ism, nonetheless
presentations of Shí'ism were still "often ill-informed and
misleading." Three years later, Nasr
opined that the great increase in academic research into Shí'ism
prompted by the revolution did not necessarily provide an increase in
understanding it, and Abdulaziz Sachedina,
writing in the same year, stated that he found "a general ignorance or
misinformation" about Shí'ism even among faculty members at the
University of Jordan.
To conclude, academic attention to Shí'a Islam was sporadic at best
until the 1950s. Then, works of certain scholars, most notably Corbin, began
appearing which gave new inspiration to the study of Shí'ism. At
present, there is a great deal of interest in the topic, largely due to the
major recent political events in Iran. Some scholars fear that this new
interest is not a healthy one, for they feel that Westerners may be getting a
narrow view of Shí'a history distorted by contextual politics. This by
no means represents a consensus in the academic community, though. Numerous
high-quality, objective, and academically-responsible books and articles have
been published in the past fifteen years, and the state of Shí'a studies
in the West can fairly safely be said to be, if not thriving, at least
1.4. SUMMARY OF SHI'A ISLAM
The word 'Shí'a' just means "party," as in "political party." This is a
foreign term imposed on this branch by outside scholars; the
Shí'ís themselves most often refer to themselves as
al-khássa, "the Select," or,
more simply, al-tá'ifa, "the Group." The term "Shí'ism," as used in this
paper, will denote specifically the "Twelver" branch of Shí'ism, the
Ithná 'Asharí. But, to define Shí'ism simply as a party of
Islam would be seriously to demean its scope and import. A cursory discussion
of the themes of Shí'ism, and specifically of its conception of the
Imamate, is necessary here.
The origins of Shí'a Islam are found in the issue of succession
following Muhammad's death. There are a few indications that Muhammad may have
intended for his cousin and son-in-law 'Alí ibn Abí Tálib
to succeed him as the leader of the Muslim community. Though a great many
sayings of the Prophet were later invented by the Shí'ís to
support their claims, there are nonetheless a few hadith accepted as canonical
by both main branches of Islam that point to some sort of unique status of
'Alí in Muhammad's eyes.
Muhammad does not seem to have left his community with clear directions as to
how to choose a successor, and there was no precedent for them to follow. Some
thought that the successor should be chosen in the manner of the earlier tribal
custom; this would entail that the members of the community would vote to
select one of their own class, a person renowned for his qualities of strength
and virtue (muruwwa). Others felt that only a member of Muhammad's
immediate family, one who enjoyed blood-ties to the holy Prophet, could have
the necessary divinely-appointed authority to rule. It is possible that some
may have agitated for the installation of 'Alí, though it is not known
how strong his support was at this time.
Still others pointed out that, since the society inaugurated by Muhammad could
not be bound by any earlier traditions, there was no way of knowing how a
successor should be chosen. In the end, it was partly political maneuverings
and largely contextual happenstance that proved to be the deciding factors, and
Abú Bakr, one of the earliest converts, was chosen to be caliph.
Abú Bakr nominated 'Umar to succeed him, and 'Alí gave 'Umar his
pledge of fidelity. 'Umar, as he lay dying from an assassin's wound, appointed
a six-member council to choose a successor. 'Alí was offered the
caliphate on the condition that he continue the policies of his predecessors,
which he refused to do, since what he was in effect being asked to do was to
keep the Qurayshi tribe in power at the expense of other tribes. 'Uthmán, the alternate choice,
accepted the caliphate. Though 'Alí expressed a certain hesitation in
offering 'Uthmán his support, he
made no vocal objections to 'Uthmán's appointment. When 'Uthmán
was murdered in A.D. 656, 'Alí was urged to take the caliphate and,
though expressing reluctance, he now accepted. Though discontent with his
caliphate was not long in coming, it is likely that he was initially supported
by all sides.
'Alí's accession to the caliphate came to be regarded by the later
Shí'a as a long-overdue fulfillment of the Prophet's own wishes. Although certain significant events occurred
during 'Alí's reign, such as the first civil war, his caliphate is
highly regarded in the Shí'í tradition for other reasons, namely,
that it was the first time that the Prophet's wishes were finally implemented.
'Alí was assassinated by a Kháriji in 661 and his son Hasan
declined to press his claims for the caliphate. Instead, Hasan ceded power to
the Qurayshi aristocrat Mu'áwiya, and thus the Umayyad period began,
marking the end of the period of the "rightly-guided Caliphs" in the eyes of
the Shí'a. From this point, the Sunnis and the Shí'ís recognized different leaders--the Sunnis
continued to follow the Caliphs, but the Shí'ís instead regarded
the Imams, the offspring of 'Alí, as the true leaders, even though the
Imams had no temporal power. Hasan was poisoned in 669, most likely at the
instigation of Mu'áwiya. He was
followed by his brother Husayn, the third Imam. Mu'áwiya died in 680 and
partisans of 'Alí urged Husayn to travel to Iraq to lead a revolt
against Mu'áwiya's successor Yazíd and seek the caliphate. Husayn
set out with about seventy of his supporters, including his wives and children,
but they were met by a contingent of Yazíd's forces and surrounded at a
place called Karbalá. The men were killed and the women and children
taken as slaves to Damascus. This event, though of a type relatively
commonplace in Middle Eastern history, proved to have great ramifications. As
Julius Wellhausen expressed it, Husayn's murder
... opened up a new era for the Shia... There are such things as
events which have a tremendous effect, not so much through themselves and their
inevitable consequences as through the memories they leave in the minds and
hearts of men.
There were, following Husayn, nine more Imams, but none had the same impact on
Shí'a history as did the Imamates of 'Alí, Hasan, and Husayn.
We now must skip to the end of the line of the Ithná 'Asharí
Imams. The eleventh Imam, Hasan al-'Askari, died in 873-874, seemingly leaving
no designated successor. This apparent
break in the line of divine authority was unacceptable to the
Shí'ís, so it was concluded that al-'Askari had indeed left a son
who, for reasons of safety, God had "occulted," or hidden from worldly eyes and
temporal worries. This did not present a significant upset for the Shí'a
community, for the previous two Imams, by virtue of their seclusion from
worldly affairs, had also been, for all practical purposes, occulted. This son was named Muhammad al-Mahdí,
or, simply, the Mahdí ("divinely-guided"). Imam Mahdí
communicated with the Shí'a community for the next 67 years through four
intermediaries most commonly known as the Ambassadors, sufará, or
Gates, abwáb. Upon the death of the last of these Gates in 941,
the Imam Mahdí ceased to have any interaction with the community, and is
thus said to have entered the "Greater Occultation." He remains in this state,
alive but unseen, and has been granted by God an indefinitely long life. His
role is very similar to that of the Messiah in Judeo-Christian thought. The
Imam Mahdí will reveal himself in the Last Days to avenge the wrongful
murders of Husayn and the other eleven Imams, establish justice and equity on
earth, and usher in the period of Divine Judgment.
1.5. THEMES OF SHI'A ISLAM AND THE IMAMATE
Many of the major tenets of later Shí'a theology are derived from the
above-mentioned episodes in Shí'a history. Some of them will be
introduced here, for they are directly relevant in understanding the
Shí'a interpretations of the Qur'án. The major themes of Shí'ism are: the
paramountcy of justice, especially in the face of omnipresent injustice; an
ethos of redemptive suffering; the belief that certain human authority figures
derive their command by divine sanction and are the bearers of transcendent
knowledge; respect and devotion for these figures; and messianism.
The relationship between events in Shí'a history and the
above-mentioned themes is a fascinating one, but beyond the scope of this
investigation. To be succinct, I'll distill the relationship between the two
into three crucial events.
One: Shí'ís believe that Muhammad clearly elected 'Alí
and the family of the Prophet to bear the standard of authority among the
Muslims. These divinely-appointed heirs were, but for the brief reign of
'Alí, prevented from ever exercising their intended authority. This
means that most of the history of Islam has been one of misguided leadership,
which has prevented Islam from ever attaining its potential glory. Thus has
developed the theme that the potential for enlightened and just leadership
exists in the world, but other factors have caused injustice to reign.
Two: The martyrdom of Husayn, the Prophet's last living male descendent, is
more momentous than a mere expression of injustice. It is an historical event
similar in significance to the crucifixion of Jesus, one in which God's
appointed leader has been martyred by the forces of oppression and evil. The
injustice of this is too great, to heinous, to be regarded as anything but a
part of God's plan. Thus, the martyrdoms of Husayn and Jesus are seen as
intentional and, even, voluntary; though God did not wish for Husayn to be
murdered, it was nonetheless foreordained.
The martyrdom of Husayn parallels that of Christ in another major respect: it
is the channel through which humans can attain divine sanctification.
Three: Since God's plan seemingly has been thwarted by the powers of evil, He
has withdrawn His appointed authority. The Imam is hidden from any interaction
with the world, but he is still among us, his presence supporting the very
existence of the world. He and he alone is
the true leader and the sole being who fully understands God's book, the
Qur'án. He will manifest himself at the end of time to bring justice and
peace and to reward the righteous.
One of the most important aspects of Shí'a theology in light of this
paper is the status of the Imam, God's vicegerent on Earth. Initially, the
concept of the Imam was a relatively limited one. Indeed, for all Islam
originally and for the Sunnis to this day the word signifies nothing more than
the person who leads the prayers, and for early Shí'ism the imam was
simply a leader who brings justice to the oppressed. As history progressed and the
Shí'ís witnessed more and more injustice and oppression, the
importance of the Imam and his religious significance increased
proportionately. Also, as the leaders of the Shí'ís proved less
and less able to obtain secular power and were continually succumbing to
external subjugation, the authority ascribed to them shifted away from the
political sphere and more into the transcendent realms.
By the time of Ja'far as-Sádiq, the sixth Imam, and especially under
his influence, the doctrine of the Imamate had become quite theosophical, i.e.
esoteric, transcendental, and mystical.
The doctrine of the Imamate as codified by Ja'far includes the following
concepts: the "Fourteen Proofs," namely the twelve Imams plus Muhammad and his
daughter Fátima, were created in the primordial realm from rays of
subtle light. Before the creation of the physical universe these "Impeccable
Beings" spent their time, so to speak, circumambulating the Throne of God,
witnessing His Unicity (tawhid) and Glory (tahmíd). In an
undefined "later" time, humankind and the existential world were created. In
more recent times, the Imams began becoming manifest in the historical world.
Thus, though the Prophet, his daughter, and the twelve Imams had/have a human
existence, their essence remains surpassingly exalted. They are the supreme
manifestation of divinity in the phenomenal world and always retain their
primal connection with the divine, so their words are to be taken as the words
of God, their knowledge as divine knowledge, and their authority as absolute.
Furthermore, since the Imam is the "Organ" of God, that is, God's regent in the
universe, it is inconceivable that the Earth ever could be without his
presence. Ergo, the Imam, though hidden, still resides on the existential
Part Two: Scholarship on the Shí'í Qur'án
OF SHI'ISM AND THE QUR'AN
The three crucial events of Shí'ism as listed above--usurpation of
legitimate leadership, the prevalence of injustice and oppression, and
messianism--each corresponds with a tenet of Shí'a theories about the
Qur'án. These tenets, plus others, will be summarized now and, later,
examined in greater detail in the subsequent discussion of the Western
The stimulus of the formation of the Shí'at 'Alí, the party of
'Alí, was the supposed intent of Muhammad that 'Alí succeed him
as the leader of the community, and the thwarting of this intent by other
forces. Proofs of Muhammad's selection of 'Alí were allegedly manifold,
but most of this evidence was hidden or destroyed by the enemies of
'Alí. These proofs included many sayings of the Prophet, specific
decrees delivered to the community, and instructions in the Qur'án.
After Muhammad's death, the usurpers conspired to ignore these instructions
and, later, to delete these hadith from the canonical collections of hadith.
The only copy of the uncorrupted Qur'án, complete with verses
proclaiming the exalted station of 'Alí and the future Imams, was in
'Alí's possession. When he offered it to the community following
Muhammad's death, they rejected it. Instead, all members of the community who
had scraps of suras and those who had memorized assorted verses collated these
fragments, carefully excising references to the issue of succession, and
thereby formed the Qur'án that exists today. The Imams preserved this original copy of
the Qur'án they both kept the original book and passed it on to their
successors and, as well, memorized the uncorrupted text and taught it to their
successors. They are thus the only members of the Muslim community, according
to the Shí'a, who know the true teachings of the Prophet, and are the
only authoritative interpreters of the holy book.
The second theme, that of injustice and oppression, is closely related to an
article of belief common to all Muslims but accentuated by the
Shí'ís, that of exoteric and esoteric aspects of the
Qur'án. The Shí'a community learned early on that to state their
beliefs openly and to press their claims was fruitless. This only caused their
community to be derided, their leaders to be killed, and their repression to
become more severe. The Shí'ís thus developed two connected
ideas: that of taqiyya, and that of esoteric interpretations of the
Qur'án. Taqiyya, usually rendered as "religious dissimulation,"
allows a Shí'í to deny his faith under dangerous conditions. In doing so the believer retains his or her
allegiance to Shí'ism while presenting an orthodox face to the
repressors. This applies to interpretations of the Qur'án, as well.
Shí'í tafsír, exegesis of the Qur'án,
strongly stresses the distinction between exoteric, záhir, and
esoteric, bátin, meanings of Qur'ánic verses. This
parallels the distinction common to both main branches of Islam between those
verses of the Qur'án which are muhkamát, of obvious
meaning, and those verses which are mutashábihát, of
ambiguous meaning. However, the Shí'a concept goes much further. First,
verses are not merely either clear or ambiguous; rather, there are numerous
levels of meaning within any one verse, most of which are esoteric and can only
be elucidated by an Imam who is a direct channel for divine knowledge. Indeed,
though most verses have only one exoteric meaning, they can have up to seven
levels of different esoteric significances. This directly relates to the principle of
taqiyya, for many of the esoteric interpretations were not to be shared
with Muslims who were not Shí'í. Not only would these Muslims be
incapable of understanding, but to share esoteric meanings could, and often
did, put the Shí'ís in mortal danger.
The distinction between outer and inner meanings of Qur'án verses led
to another conclusion about the Qur'án which is wholly unique to
Shí'ism: not only are the Imams the only possessors of the original
Qur'án but, more, they are the only ones capable of elucidating its
inner, and hence its real, meanings. Further, since one who does not benefit
from an Imam's elucidation can in no way understand the text, he or she can not
be said to have understood it at all. The Qur'án is, for him, "silent."
The Imam, on the other hand, as the bearer of the original text and its sole
authorized interpreter, is said to be the "speaking" Qur'án. As proof of
this, the Shí'ís offer the following verse, Qur'án 3:7:
"...No one knows its [the Qur'án's] true meanings except God, and those
who are firmly grounded in knowledge." The
last part of this is taken to mean the Imams. Thus, only God and the Imams can
understand and explain the book.
The third theme listed above, messianism, gives yet another aspect to
Shí'a theories about the Qur'án. When the twelfth Imam entered
the state of occultation, the Muslim community lost its contact with, not just
the Imam, but with the true Qur'án, as well. Dissimulation was thus
given yet another face: the Shí'ís were now to disguise the fact
that their piety rested only with their own Qur'án and were instead to
pretend to accept the canonical redaction. They did not fear that the
Qur'án had been lost, though, since it was also understood that the
Mahdí would bring the original text back when he manifests himself at
the end of time.
2.2. WESTERN SCHOLARSHIP ON THE SHI'I QUR'AN
The Qur'án has a history of its own which has developed side by side with the
history of the Muslim people. It has, as Ayoub says, been regarded by Muslims
"not simply as a book in the usual sense but as a living and dynamic
personality." Qur'ánic studies by
Orientalists have followed more or less the same path as have Islamic studies
as a whole. For many centuries, the Qur'án was written off as a confused
heathen jumble, but in this century
scholars have begun to develop a new appreciation for the text. Francesco
Gabrieli, though writing in the twentieth century, expressed his thoughts about
Muhammad and the Qur'án in a quote that so well epitomizes the archaic
views that it deserves to be rendered in full:
That he [Muhammad] was no outstanding thinker is testified by his
obscure and confused holy Book in which the revelations he believed to have
received from his God and Lord throughout two decades are faithfully collected.
Moreover, the initial demoniac inspiration gradually decreased more and more,
finally losing itself in homily and in admonitions of a very banal nature.
The bulk of recent scholarship, however, even if it does not necessarily accept
the Qur'án as the word of God, at least expresses respect and often
admiration for it. This change in attitude is even found among many
nonspecialists, such as Karen Armstrong. Writing in 1993, she presents the
Qur'án in a way that a Muslim would find completely acceptable, and even
acknowledges that, when "Western people find the Koran a difficult book,
...this is largely a problem of translation."
The topics of Shí'ism as a whole and particularly of the
Shí'í Qur'án remain outside of the mainstream of Islamic
studies. Although there is an ever-increasing amount of work being done on
Shí'ism, as discussed above, there is not yet a large enough body of
work to allow for general academic consensus on many of the particulars of the
subject. This is quite evident in the issue of the Shí'í
Qur'án, which has been the focus of active debate since the inception of
Shí'a studies. Indeed, two of the very first publications in a Western
language on Shí'ism were the articles on additions to the
Shí'í Qur'án mentioned above, and this exact issue is
being debated until the present day.
The nature of this investigation requires a somewhat unique format, to which I
will draw attention at the outset. Of central concern is not just what scholars
have researched and concluded on the subject, but, more specifically, what they
wrote and when. There are thus two extra appendixes following this paper.
Besides a standard bibliography, I have included a list of all publications
mentioned in this essay, arranged chronologically. The reader may find
occasional reference to this list to be quite helpful. But for a few notable
works in French or German, this list is meant only to exhaust the sources
available in English. Second, besides listing the sources I did find, I found
it necessary to list the ones that I did not find, as well. This list follows
the previous one. The intent of listing these, too, is to present the reader
with as complete a list as possible of all sources available in English, even
if I was not able to acquire them for this paper.
I will approach the subject of Western scholarship on the Shí'í
Qur'án by tracing the development of two key concepts through the
previous century of academia. The first topic is how scholars have debated the
issues of alternate readings of the Qur'án. The second examines early
Shí'í claims that the original Qur'án has been lost and
later Shí'í claims that they accept the canonical
'Uthmánic edition and the academic consensus on this issue. The issue of
the Shí'í Qur'án in the above two aspects has proven to be
the main area of debate and contention in the last one hundred and fifty years
2.3. VARIANT READINGS OF THE QUR'AN: TWO NEW SURAS
The several recensions of the Qur'án in standard use today are not the
only authoritative redactions of the text. It is in this fact that the
Shí'a community has, at certain times in its history, derived one of its
main tenets; namely, that there was an original, uncorrupted text which
proclaimed 'Alí and the Imams as the rightful heirs of Muhammad.
All branches of Islam accept the fact that there are variant readings of the
Qur'án. This is not to say that all Muslims are aware of that fact. As
Daud Rahbar wrote in 1961, most "educated Muslims are universally unaware of
any variance of early codices," and the fact that there are variants "is a fact
which will shock contemporary Muslims greatly." A brief exposition of the history of the
text will provide background to the issue, following which I will present the
history of Western scholarship on the issue.
The Qur'án had been delivered from Gabriel as an oral text, and so it
was the orally-transmitted, recited text that was considered the true
Qur'án. The community saw no immediate need to preserve it in writing.
Following the Prophet's death, though, the community became engaged in wars in
which many of the reciters were killed, and it became apparent that parts of
the Qur'án were in danger of being lost. Abú Bakr had a written
text compiled to ensure that the Qur'án, heretofore only preserved
orally, would still be preserved even should all of its memorizers die. The purpose of this compilation was thus
inspired, not by variant readings, but merely by the recognition that a
complete collection was needed. Later,
during the reign of 'Uthmán, it became evident to the community that
there were an uncomfortable number of variations in the memorized texts, and so
'Uthmán began the process of compiling a single, authoritative version.
A canonical text was produced under his direction, and he ordered that all
other, noncanonical, texts be burned. This codification did not completely
preclude any future variations, however, for his was a consonantal text only.
Its purpose was merely to preserve the skeleton of the text for the sake of
preventing any future textual corruption, not to record the living
Qur'án as such. Partly for this reason, and largely because the science
of Arabic orthography was still primitive, variations remained possible. The
skeletal 'Uthmánic text either contained limited vowel markings or none
at all, and the shapes of several consonants were similar, both of which
allowed for a great variety of differences in meaning. Though these differences were usually minor,
a few changes could have great ramifications. For example, depending on tone,
the word for "exalted," "'alí," could be taken either to be a
simple adjective, or to refer to a divine endorsement of the caliphate of
'Alí! From all of these variations, a limited number were selected and
canonized in the tenth century. The final
stage in the process of codifying the Qur'án came in the twentieth
century when "an Egyptian Royal Committee of experts" issued one definitive,
fully vocalized reading of the text in 1924. Although the Egyptian edition is now the
predominant one, the other variant readings are still acknowledged to be
There is no doubt that there was a variety of readings of the text for, if
nothing else, it was this very fact which motivated 'Uthmán to canonize
a single text in the first place. Many Muslims who were dissatisfied with the
Umayyad rule were also dissatisfied with 'Uthmán's text, especially the
partisans of 'Alí. It is also evident that 'Alíd objections to
this recension were very early, for the Sunni faction found it necessary to
invent early hadiths in which 'Alí was made to say that he accepted
Uthmán's text. The crucial factor
in this issue, namely what the variant texts were and how much they varied,
will most likely never be discovered. This ambiguity has allowed for what has
proven to be the most heated debate in scholarship of the Shí'í
Qur'án, both by Shí'ís and by Orientalists.
I think that it will be both clearest and most concise to examine the academic
history of this subject chronologically. Discussion of the issue of
Shí'í variants of the Qur'án, though active, was quite
limited until relatively recently. To my knowledge, there were only five works
by Western scholars before 1936 that treated the topic. In May, 1842, Garcin de
Tassy published the text and translation of an "unknown chapter of the
Qur'án" in the Journal Asiatique. It was called the "Sura of the Two Lights"
(súrat an-núrayn), the two lights being Muhammad and
'Alí. Most scholars who have commentated on this text have found its
origins somewhat mysterious. However,
Amir-Moezzi, writing in 1993, seems to have arrived at a clear history of the
text and to have deduced its authorship. He claims that it was written by an
Iranian Zoroastrian who emigrated to India in the late sixteenth or early
seventeenth century. This forty-two verse
sura discusses faith in God and the certainty of Judgment Day in a style very
similar to a multitude of verses from the canonical Qur'án. Indeed, I
sensed that many of the verses were nothing more than direct quotes from the
Qur'án with minor word changes. The
next year, Kazem-Beg published a revised translation of the same sura in the
same journal, adding vocalization and dividing it into verses. Unfortunately,
he did not discuss the original manuscript from which he made his redaction. I
must now introduce a second text before any conclusions can be drawn.
St. Clair Tisdall, traveling in India in 1912, came across a manuscript of the
Qur'án that appeared to be about two or three hundred years old. In this manuscript he discovered a
previously-unknown sura that was not part of any official editions of the book,
as well as a few verses which were unique to this copy of the text. This
seven-verse sura was called the "Sura of Divine Friendship" (súrat
al-waláya). Tisdall immediately published a translation of this
surah, along with the small assortment of the other "new" verses, in The
Moslem World in 1913. This article appears to have been only the third work
published in English treating the possibility of additions to the
Tisdall concluded that all three of these works--the súrat
an-núrayn, the súrat al-waláya, and the other
assorted verses--were forgeries. Unfortunately, I cannot discover, based on the
sources available to me, whether Garcin de Tassy and Kazem-Beg viewed the Sura
of the Two Lights as authentic. None of the sources I found mentioned their
conclusions, save one exception. Amir-Moezzi does discuss the attitude of these
two translators to the text, but he appears to have made an error. Amir-Moezzi
treats both of these suras at length in his sub-chapter "Notes on the 'Integral
Qur'án.'" Speaking of the two
suras, he claims that Garcin de Tassy "tends to believe in their authenticity,"
while Kazem-Beg "refutes the authenticity of the first of the two." This must be a mistake on his part, for the
Sura of Divine Friendship was wholly unknown to Western scholars before
Tisdall's discovery of it in 1912. It is not possible that the error is from my
misreading of Amir-Moezzi's text, for he could not be more clear. His paragraph
opens with "Let us now return to the two "Unknown chapters" of the
Qur'án, the sura of the Two Lights, and that of the
waláya," and the above quotes immediately follow this opening. Notwithstanding this uncertainty, the rest
of the academic community is quite clear on its assessment of these two new
suras: Von Grunebaum in 1961 declared them to be "obvious forgeries," and almost all other scholars who have
examined the topic have concluded the same. Aside from Amir-Moezzi, I have
found no text by any Orientalist, even Shí'í academics, that opines otherwise.
It would be quite tempting to see these two suras as related to the
Shí'í agenda of criticizing the 'Uthmánic Qur'án
and, indeed, the majority of research on these two suras has focused on exactly
this issue. In 1936 Jeffrey published an article in the Rivista degli Studi
Orientali, "The Qur'án Readings of Zaid b. 'Alí," which for
the first time treated the relation between Shí'ism and the variants of
the Qur'án. At least twelve studies
in English followed this seminal examination, most of which will be discussed
below. In brief, academics have advanced
both conclusions, namely, either that these two suras should be considered the
work of the Shí'a movement or that they aren't connected with
Shí'ism. After closely examining the scholarship of all twelve of these
studies, I find only one conclusion: since it is tempting to fit these
innovations into the supposed Shí'a paradigm, some scholars have rather
blithely written them off as works of the Shí'a. However, more
analytical research has tended to lead to the conclusion that the
Shí'ís had little or no part in the creation and propagation of
these two suras. Only two articles made a connection between Shí'ism and
these specific textual innovations. Both articles mentioned this connection
only in passing, offering neither proof nor further explanation. Von Grunebaum,
in the study mentioned above, states that
"the Shí'a charge malicious omission by the editors [of the
'Uthmánic redaction] of individual verses and even of complete suras
supporting their doctrines. The only two Shí'ite suras which have come
to light are obvious forgeries."
Von Grunebaum offers no explanation of why he mentions Shí'ism and these
two suras in the same breath and he does not comes back to the issue. The
second article which draws this connection is that of Bar-Asher who, while
discussing Shí'í texts, mentions "...a manuscript of the
Qur'án discovered in the beginning of the 20th century [i.e., Tisdall's]
...in which, besides the Shí'í alternative versions to some of
the Qur'ánic verses, two apocryphal Súras were also
included." Again, like Von Grunebaum,
Bar-Asher offers no further explanation as to why these suras are
Shí'í, and does not mention them again.
The more in-depth studies of the topic present a conclusion opposed to this
cavalier assumption. Tisdall, in his original 1913 article, did refer to these
suras as "Shí'ite additions," but tempered this with the observation
that no Shí'í seems to have attempted to get these innovations
accepted into the canonical text, though "every temptation was... given to
[them]." He later observed that "although
it was so greatly in [the Shí'a's] apparent interest to accept these
additional passages, yet the Shí'ites did not do so." Tisdall thus appears to have been puzzled by
what he thought were forgeries created by Shí'ís who for some
reason made no attempt to propagate them. Eliash, both in his dissertation and
his article mentioned above, has arrived at what seems to be the most likely
conclusion. First, Eliash claims that the only connection the súrat
al-waláya has with Shí'ism is that it was discovered in a
city which was known to be a Shí'a center of learning. Second, he points out that the author of the
manuscript in which the súrat an-núrayn was found
consistently refers to the Shí'a party in the third person, and then
only in passing. Though this mysterious
author makes no clear statement about his religious orientation, his
introduction leaves the reader with the distinct impression that he was not a
Shí'í. Thus, while this specific question is still being debated,
my initial conclusion is that a close examination of the academic consensus
reveals that the two innovative suras are most likely not
2.4. VARIANT READINGS OF THE QUR'AN: COLLECTIONS OF VARIANT VERSES
Following Tisdall's 1913 article, a few other collections of textual variants
have been collected and published in English. These catalogues of variants,
too, are not often either clearly Shí'a or non-Shí'a. They are
not many, and so I will mention all of them before drawing conclusions. I will
present the studies one by one, again chronologically.
First, Goldziher examined the issue in a work published in 1920, Die
Richtungen der islamishen Koranauslegung (The Directions of Islamic
Interpretations of the Qur'án). I cannot discuss this since I do not
read German. In 1936 and 1937, Jeffrey published two of the largest studies on
the issue of variant readings, first the above article on the readings of Zaid
ibn 'Alí, followed by the most thorough study to date, Materials for
the History of the Text of the Quran. I did not have access to the latter
work. However, Jeffrey treated the same topic in the first article, "The
Qur'án Readings of Zaid b. 'Alí." Zaid ibn 'Alí was the
son of the fourth Imam, Zaid al-'Abidín, and the great-grandson of the
first Imam, 'Alí. More than this, he was one of the first prominent
Muslim theologians and writers, and he is highly respected by
Shí'ís and Sunnis alike. He was one of the many Muslims who had
also, besides 'Uthmán, compiled an edition of the Qur'án. Jeffrey
collected all of those verses in which Zaid's recension differed from
'Uthmán's, and compiled and translated them in this study. Some
scattered verses he found in a variety of known manuscripts, but others he
found in manuscripts which he came across by accident. His list of variants thus contains some
previously-published material, but most of it was being presented to the
academic world for the first time. This collection of variants fills
thirty-five pages in the journal in which it is published, at the end of which
he attempts to determine whether they are to be considered specifically as a
"Shí'í" reading. Jeffrey's main findings are two. First, he
concludes that Zaid's edition must be a relatively sound one, for almost every
verse coincides with verses found in other noncanonical editions. Second, while Zaid was obviously a
Shí'í, his collection of the Qur'án should not be
considered a partisan one; his variants often agree with those collected by
Sunni editors, such as Hasan al-Basrí, sometimes even at the expense of
agreement with overtly Shí'a editions. Jeffrey's overall conclusion is
that, while Zaid's redaction is a Shí'a one, in that it was compiled by
a Shí'í, it does not prove that there was at this time an
explicit Shí'í agenda to find fault with the canonical
Qur'án and replace it with a Shí'í one.
No work appears to have been done on the subject for another twenty-five
years. The next examination was an article by Daud Rahbar called "Relation of
Shí'a Theology to the Qur'án," which he published in four parts
in The Muslim World between 1961 and 1962. This series does not offer any new verses,
though. Rather, Rahbar offers comments and insights about the Shí'a
attitudes towards and interpretations of the Qur'án. He based this work
on the two collections prepared by Jeffrey which were, besides Tisdall's, the
only ones yet published.
The next two studies offered a greater depth of insight into one aspect of
this subject, namely the Shí'a attitude towards the two new surahs, than
did Rahbar's somewhat cursory comments. Joseph Eliash, a student at University
of London, wrote his dissertation on the meaning and status of Imam 'Alí
in the Twelver Shí'í tradition. To my knowledge this dissertation
has not been published, but I obtained a copy of the text he submitted for his
degree. This study examined the dual
nature of 'Alí in the Shí'í tradition in which, on the one
hand, orthodoxy decrees that 'Alí must be seen as spiritually inferior
to Muhammad, while at the same time pietistically treating 'Alí with the
same veneration with which it treats the Prophet. Eliash reprinted chapter five of this work,
"'Alí, the Interpreter of the Law: (2) Qur'án," in a separate
essay published in 1969 as "'The Shí'ite Qur'án:' A
Reconsideration of Goldziher's Interpretation." Eliash's concern in this study is not to
present any new textual variants, nor to discuss the ones that had been
published, but rather to reexamine the conclusions of Goldziher's earlier work,
Die Richtungen der islamishen Koranauslegung, including the status of
the two new suras. I have discussed Eliash's work here, rather than in the
preceding section, because Goldziher's and Eliash's concerns are less with the
two suras themselves than with the general Shí'a attitudes to textual
variation and the original Qur'án.
The next study of the topic of variations in the Qur'án and their
relation to Shí'ism shortly followed Eliash's 1969 article. This was a
highly-quoted chapter by Etan Kohlberg, "Some Notes on the Imamite Attitude to
the Qur'án," included in the book Islamic Philosophy and the
Classical Tradition. Unfortunately,
this work was not available to me, and so we must skip to the next publication.
There appears to have been no research published on the topic for another two
decades, after which time numerous studies appeared. The first of these was not
an examination dedicated to the topic of Shí'í variants, but it
did treat the issue in some detail. Michael Fisher and Mehdi Abedi produced in
1990 a unique and quite unusual book called Debating Muslims: Cultural
Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition. This work is a discussion of Iranian belief
and practice from what appears to be an anthropological standpoint. It is
unusual in that it is not a straightforward academic text, but rather a
postmodernistic stream-of-consciousness presentation. Chapter two, which is
"both more playful and more serious" than other texts, discusses how Muslims historically have read
the Qur'án, how the hermeneutical tradition of the Qur'án relates
to modern politics, and how the above two themes have affected Muslim
self-awareness. No conclusions about the
Shí'í Qur'án presented in this text differ substantially
from the above-mentioned studies; I merely
mention the book here to complete the catalogue of academic investigations into
This decade has witnessed almost as much research on the topic of
Shí'í variants of the Qur'án as has been produced in the
previous century. The first of these was Todd Lawson's survey of the field
published in 1991, "Note for the Study of a 'Shí'í
Qur'án.'" The first five pages of
this article present a relatively comprehensive, though succinct, summary of
previous Western works on the subject of a specifically Shí'í
Qur'án. Following this, Lawson devotes another ten pages to a summary of
attitudes of Muslim academics on the issue, from the tenth-century
al-Káfí to the seventeenth-century al-Sáfí. This
is, to my knowledge, the most comprehensive list of its kind published in
English. Lawson's conclusions do not need to be mentioned here, for they will
be discussed in the following section.
Meir M. Bar-Asher published an article in 1993 entitled "Variant Readings and
Additions of the Imámí-Shí'a to the Qur'án." This is the most complete treatment of the
subject of variant readings of the Qur'án that I have found. Despite the
fact that I criticized his assessment of the two new suras, Bar-Asher is to be
credited for having produced in this paper exactly what the field seems to have
been waiting for: he compiled many of the variant verses mentioned or listed in
the above-discussed works in one location. This was not meant to be an
exhaustive compendium, for Jeffrey had already catalogued many of these verses
in his Materials for the History of the Text of the Quran. Instead,
Ben-Asher's intent was to catalogue all of those that Jeffrey did not list and
then sift through them to select only those variants "which have a specific
Shí'í character." Despite
the importance of this endeavor, it is for another reason that Ben-Asher's
study is highly relevant to this paper: he devotes the first half of this
article to an examination of the underlying principles guiding
Shí'í variant readings of the Qur'án, the nature of the
variations, and their difference from the 'Uthmánic text. His is the
first investigation I have found which discusses this exact topic in any
Ben-Asher divides the known variants into four categories. First is minor alteration of a word by
exchanging or adding a letter and/or a vowel-marking. This is certainly the
most common type of alteration and, indeed, it is alterations of this sort that
comprise the seven to fourteen canonical variants accepted by all Muslims.
Second is the exchange of one word for another, such as Imam for umma
(community). Third is the rearrangement of word order. This type of variant is
the one most commonly-accepted by Shí'ís. Only in the Imamate
theologies of the first four centuries A.H. and in the extremist
(ghulát) branches of Shí'ism was it widely asserted that
'Uthmán excised significant amounts of text from the original
Qur'án. The far more common view, held by Shí'ís to this
day, is that the 'Uthmánic edition preserves the entire text, but in the
wrong order. This is the explanation the Shí'ís forward to
explain the seemingly jumbled order of verses and suras and the rambling
narrative line of the stories presented in the Qur'án. The fourth type
of variant is the addition of words which the Shí'a tradition claims
were omitted in the canonical redaction. The vast majority of these supposed
omissions are the name of 'Alí, references to the leadership of the
Imams, and the names of the future Imams.
Ben-Asher claims to have included in his compendium only those verses which
are distinctly Shí'í, but he admits that, for some puzzling
reason, the Shí'ís made no attempt to foist these variants onto
any canonical texts:
On the basis of such a rejection of the Sunní text one should
naturally have expected the Shí'a to insert these alternative versions
and additions into the text of the Qur'án or at least to implement them
in religious rulings and/or include them in the liturgy. However, in reality,
as far as I know, almost no action was taken on the part of the
Imámí-Shí'a to canonize their variant readings.
I think that the answer to this dilemma is not difficult to find. Ben-Asher has
made exactly the same misleading assumptions that Tisdall made eighty years
earlier: that is, he simply is diverging from academic consensus in his initial
assessment of these variants as Shí'í ones. Just as he was likely
mistaken in attributing the two new suras to Shí'a agency, likewise he
may be incorrect in his understanding of both the Shí'a agenda and of
these variant verses. I will explain this issue in the following section.
Three more studies on Shí'a variants have been published since
Ben-Asher's, but I will only discuss one of them here. In 1993, G. R. Hawting
published a book which contained discussions of the issue called Approaches
to the Qur'an. This work, unfortunately, was not available for my use. The
second work is that of Amir-Moezzi. Much of this book has been discussed above,
and the remainder that relates to the topic will be presented in the next
section. This leaves only one last research into the science of variations.
Hossein Modarressi published an examination of the "Early Debates on the
Integrity of the Qur'án" in 1993. Though he called this work "a brief
survey," it is actually one of the more
extensive published accounts both on the history of the formation of the
canonical text and on its variants. Much of this article reflects what had
already been published up to this point, save one exception. Modarressi
includes a detailed discussion of the possibility that parts of the original
text were not preserved in the 'Uthmánic one, and he bases his
discussion, not on partisan Shí'í documents, but on instances
taken from Sunni histories, as well. Modarressi cites many examples, but two
will suffice here. In one instance, it is reported that 'Umar was once looking
for the text of a specific verse, only to discover that the only reciter who
had any record of that verse had been killed in the battle of Yamáma.
Another example is that 'Umar recollected a verse prescribing stoning as
punishment for adultery but, since no one else corroborated his recollection,
this verse was not inserted into the Qur'án. Later, however, 'A'isha,
Muhammad's youngest wife, said that a sheet on which that verse was recorded
had been eaten by a domestic animal who had gotten into the house! Though the rest of this detailed article is
comprehensive and well-written, the immediately-relevant points agree on the
whole with that which has been presented in the discussions of previous
To summarize, it is clear and universally accepted that a number of variant
readings of the Qur'án existed shortly after the time of Muhammad's
death. However, it is not known either how many variants there were, or how
greatly they differed from the later 'Uthmánic text. This uncertainty
has provided the opening for some Shí'ís to advance a claim that
there was an original text which authorized 'Alí and the family of the
Prophet to lead the community. However, this uncertainty also provided the
opposite opportunity. That is, it allowed opponents of the Shí'a falsely
to ascribe such views to the Shí'a for the sake of making them appear
heretical and thereby discrediting the party. Most Orientalist academic work
has concluded that, though the temptation to do so certainly would have been
great, the Shí'ís rarely or never actually tried to change the
canonical redaction of the Qur'án. Few of the multitude of variant
readings that have come to light can be considered "Shí'í"
readings, and the two innovative suras are spurious.
All that remains to complete this study is to examine in just what ways the
Shí'a claimed that the 'Uthmánic text was corrupt and to sort out
whether these claims were genuinely made by the Shí'ís or were
fallaciously ascribed to them by their opponents.
2.5. SHI'I CLAIMS OF THE TEXTUAL CORRUPTION OF THE QUR'AN
The reader should be now have a fairly clear picture of the status of the
scholarship on the issue of textual variations. Now I must address a closely
related issue, that of claims both by Shí'ís and by their
opponents that the text has been willfully corrupted. This will examine, not
just whether the text was altered, but whether claims of falsification,
tahríf, or alteration, taghír, were a tenet of
There seem to be four possibilities regarding Shí'ism and
taghír of the Qur'án. One, it was the Sunnis who
claimed taghír, and the Shí'a, at least initially, had
nothing to do with it. Two, Shí'ís claim that the text was
corrupted. Three, Shí'ís claim that the text was not corrupted,
that the 'Uthmánic recension is wholly true to the words of Muhammad.
Four, Shí'ís claim both: the text was corrupted but they accept
it anyway. Unlike the academic investigations into textual variation, as
discussed above, this is not an issue on which the scholastic consensus has
developed chronologically. Scholars have drawn all four conclusions on the
subject of corruption, whether writing in the tenth century A.D. or in 1993. Therefore, I will approach the subject by
presenting each of the four possibilities, one by one.
The first option is the most historically sound, but also the most
historically limited. It is historically sound in that it contains elements of
indisputable accuracy, but it is historically limited in that it only applies
to the first few decades A.H. Some Shí'ís, especially those
claiming to accept the canonical Qur'án, have alleged that their enemies
created the issue of corruption in order to level the charge of heresy at them.
Interestingly, only one scholar, Modarressi, discusses this aspect of
corruption at any length. This is
surprising, for it is an option that is, at least in part, indubitably correct.
Certainly, it is obvious that the originators of the concept of
tahríf were not Shí'í, for the community was aware
of the problem of variation and corruption long before there was a Shí'a
party. The Battle of Yamáma occurred shortly after Muhammad's death,
according to classical Muslim sources, and it was the loss of many reciters in
this battle that inspired the first compilation of the Qur'án. Quite
early, then, the community was becoming uncomfortably aware that the
preservation of the text was not guaranteed and was even endangered. The
incident quoted above, in which it was discovered that the only bearer of a
particular verse had been killed, demonstrates that textual loss was a problem
even at this early stage. Yet, not only was there no "Shí'a" proper at
this point in history, but it is likely that there was not even a party of
Modarressi claims that the stories of textual variation and loss of verses
"remained popular in the Sunnite tradition" in these first few years following
the Prophet's death. He details the
process by which these alleged omissions and alterations grew into what he
calls "monographs of considerable size" in the Sunni literature. Soon, however, the disaffected among the
community argued with these alleged alterations of the Sunnis, especially the
now-growing party of 'Alí. Faced with this challenge, Modarressi says,
the Sunnis began to distance themselves from their collections of corrupted
verses and even forbade any further collections of these variants. Over time,
the stories of the tahríf began to appeal to the Shí'a,
who were at this point seeking ways to undercut the entrenched Umayyad powers.
According to Modarressi, the Shí'ís began to adopt some of these
corruption stories as their own, and, later, many other instances of corruption
penetrated Shí'a hadith and were mistakenly attributed to the Imams. Soon the tables were turned, and opponents
of Shí'ism began accusing the Shí'ís of believing the
'Uthmánic recension to be corrupt. Indeed, later Sunnis "even accuse the
Shí'ites of initiating this idea against the consensus of all
other Muslims, namely, the Sunnites."
Few scholars besides Modarressi have addressed this aspect of the history of
textual corruption. This seems to be unwise on their part, for they are thereby
ignoring the earliest foundation of the later science of
tahríf-studies. Instead, it is the second option, that the
Shí'a claims textual corruption, that has drawn by far the most
attention. Some possible reasons for this are not hard to find. For the
Shí'ís, especially the esotericists and the ghulát,
the idea of corruption of the Qur'án solved a great many problems. It
allowed them, in the case of the former, to find proofs for the legitimacy of
the Imamate and, for the latter, to make the wildest claims about the nature of
Islam and against their enemies. It is also this option that has attracted the
majority of Orientalist attention.
The first academic presentation of the possible relation between
Shí'ism and Qur'ánic corruption of which I am aware, aside from
the translations of the two innovative suras, is that of Goldziher. In 1913 he
delivered a series of lectures, some of which were later included in his book
mentioned above, Die Richtungen der islamishen Koranauslegung (The
Directions of Islamic Interpretations of the Qur'án). Eliash, writing in
1969, claims that Goldziher's conclusions in this work "have been
unquestioningly accepted by Islamicists everywhere." Eliash then goes on to delineate
Goldziher's conclusions as follows: One, the Shí'a claim that the
'Uthmánic Qur'án is not the true Qur'án as revealed by
Muhammad. Many verses and even two suras have been omitted and the ordering
changed. Two, 'Alí possessed an integral copy of the Qur'án which
was passed on to all of the Imams and now is in the possession of the twelfth
Imam. Three, in the absence of the Imam Mahdi, believers are to accept the
'Uthmánic recension as authoritative. While Eliash did not accept all three of
these conclusions, as will be seen shortly, many other scholars do. Von
Grunebaum, for example, wrote that "the Shí'a charge malicious omission
by the editors of individual verses and even of complete suras supporting their
doctrines." As mentioned earlier,
though, Von Grunebaum neglects to support this statement. I have found no
scholarly work that both presents this option and provides sufficient evidence
to advance such a clear claim. Most scholars who say that the
Shí'ís claimed falsification of the Qur'án merely mention
it in passing, as mentioned earlier. On
the contrary, it is more likely that it was only the heresiologists who made
the case for connecting Shí'ism with tahríf and the
Qur'án. Even Amir-Moezzi, most of whose book is based on works which
are, in turn, based on the assumption of corruption of the Vulgate and a
corresponding esoteric Imamate redaction, is hesitant to ascribe
falsification-theories to Shí'ism as a whole. Though this negates most
of his source texts, Amir-Moezzi bluntly says that "doubt about the integrity
of the Qur'ánic Vulgate on the part of the Imamites is without
I will now present the third option, and come back to the second one shortly.
At many times in its history, Shí'í Islam has been quite
unambiguous in its acceptance of the canonical Qur'án. These times were
especially two: in its earliest history, and in all post-occultation history,
including the present.
Modarressi presents the history of the doctrines of text-corruption as a
dynamic and shifting one. First, as discussed, he showed that original claims
of falsification came only from Sunnis. Even as late as the second century
A.H., Imams were not claiming that the text was altered. As proof of this, the
proto-Shí'ís presented a long list of grievances to the first
three caliphs, but not one of the grievances concerned falsification of the
Qur'án. It was only later, as the
Sunnis began abandoning the tahríf-notions, that the Shí'a
began to accept this notion of falsification. Amir-Moezzi shows that
Shí'ism's most esoteric phase was that of the early Imamate. During this
time, the Shí'ís were outwardly conforming to the community
standards, to avoid persecution, but were secretly following the heterodox
teachings of the Imam. The level of esotericism reached its peak with the
Imamates of the fifth and sixth Imams, and some of the most theosophical
theories come from this time. Similarly,
it was also during this time that esoteric theories of the Qur'án
reached their extreme, and thus so did the assertions that the Vulgate
Qur'án was corrupt and limited. The Vulgate was a "silent
Qur'án," in contrast with the Imams, who were the "speaking
Qur'án." Following the
occultation of the Imam Mahdí, everything changed. The Shí'a
community no longer had access to their "speaking" Qur'án, and, aside
from the abwáb and the uluma, their only connection with God was
with the 'Uthmánic Qur'án.
The Shí'a community thus came to accept the Vulgate.
The debate on whether or not the Shí'ís truly adopt the third
option delineated above, i.e. whether they fully accept the Vulgate, is not one
that Shí'ís themselves can address. This is because the community
has adopted the doctrine that, save for verse order and the occasional
vowel-marking, the Vulgate is wholly authoritative. This wholehearted
acceptance of the 'Uthmánic text was summed-up in a famous statement by
Shaykh ibn Babwayhi Sadúq in the nineteenth century:
Our belief is that the Qur'án, which God revealed to his
Prophet Muhammad, is the one between the boards [i.e., is identical to the
published Vulgate with two covers]. And it is that which is in the hands of the
people [i.e., it is not occulted with the Mahdí], and is not greater in
extent than that. The number of Suras as generally accepted is one hundred and
fourteen [i.e., nothing has been excised].
Tabátabá'í, in a modern academically-written credo,
affirms his belief in the authenticity of the Vulgate through silence. That is,
he discusses the Shí'í attitude towards the Qur'án in his
book Shi'ite Islam for six pages without once mentioning either the
possibility that there could be variation or even that some
Shí'ís in history have thought that there might be variation. In
fact, Tabátabá'í goes so far as to reject even the
principle of esoteric interpretations of verses: in a discussion of
ta'wíl, esoteric exegesis, he says that the Qur'án "never
uses enigmatic or puzzling methods of exposition and always expounds any
subject in a language suitable for that subject."
The first option I have presented, that all charges of falsification were
originally Sunni, is relatively clear-cut. However, it would not be surprising
if options two and three seem quite confused and inconsistent. Indeed, many
Orientalists have arrived at exactly the same opinion. To cite Von Grunebaum
again, "the Shí'ites themselves have never been able to agree on the
alleged distortion of the sacred text by their adversaries." This ambiguity as to the
Shí'í attitude to the Qur'án is resolved in option four.
The Shí'ís both believe that the canonical recension is corrupted
in some way, but they accept it nonetheless. This was the conclusion reached by
Eliash when he revised Goldziher's claims in "'The Shí'ite
Qur'án:' A Reconsideration of Goldziher's Interpretation." This is also
the conclusion that is becoming more and more widely-accepted within the
The resolution is partly to be had through recourse to the principle of
taqiyya, dissimulation. Taqiyya is a principle found only in
Shí'ism which allows a believer to withhold his true beliefs and
outwardly to pretend to conform to orthodoxy. As applied to the Shí'í
Qur'án, it seems unlikely that Shí'ís ever could fully
accept the Vulgate, for their very affiliation with Shí'ism requires
that they hold as a central tenet the belief that Muhammad had clearly
authorized 'Alí to succeed him. As the Sunni hadith and the
'Uthmánic Qur'án do not include the proofs which the
Shí'ís feel surely were revealed by the Prophet, then something,
somewhere, has been omitted. Bar-Asher
explains this duality by saying that the Shí'a, on the one hand, adopted
an "uncompromising position of superiority on the theoretical-doctrinal level,
while, on the other hand, the constant fear of persecution" brought about "a
pragmatic attitude which included the adoption of the 'Uthmánic
Eliash's conclusions are promising to be the norm among the academic
community, for they are quoted in the majority of works written after his two
publications discussed above. After this
comprehensive, albeit brief, exposure to the subject and the scholarship thus
far produced on it, my sense echoes Eliash's, save that he does not seem to
recognize the extent to which taqiyya can allow for the Shí'a
secretly to retain its true beliefs. His conclusions will thus be the most
appropriate to close this project:
The Qur'án in the form accepted by the
Sunnís as the Holy Qur'án revealed to the Prophet,
is the same book accepted by the Imámí-Shí'a as the
Holy Qur'án... The Imámí-Shí'a
maintain that only the order of some of the súras as well as some of the
odd verses, and not their content (except as far as differences which arose
from various readings... are concerned) was corrupted in the 'Uthmánic
Codex... 'Alí and the eleven Imáms are the only ones after
Muhammad who know the right order.
Islam's Holy Book is the central event of the religion in a way with which no
book of any other religion can compare--its centrality within its tradition is
unequaled. In light of this, it comes as no surprise that issues surrounding
the Qur'án are vibrant. The question of textual variations and even
possible textual corruption is thus a crucial one. This issue becomes
especially exigent when the issue of sectarian splits and possible heresy are
Shí'í challenges to the canonical Qur'án are far more
than philological curiosity. They could, depending on the resolutions of these
issues, prove to be paramount in importance for the Muslim community. To repeat
an example cited above, a simple change in emphasis could make a statement that
the ruler is exalted mean that the ruler is 'Alí. The issues are not nearly so hotly debated
now in the Muslim world as they were in the first few centuries of Islamic
history. Within the last century, though, a new factor entered the arena,
namely the growth of Orientalism and a renewed scrutiny of topics related to
the Qur'án by Western scholars, whose conclusions often differ from
those arrived at by the Muslim schools of thought.
The issues surrounding the subject of the Shí'í Qur'án
are manifold. They cover far more than just the history of the text and its
variations. Other important subjects include exegesis of the text; the
distinction between commonly-accepted exoteric meanings and inner, esoteric
significances; applications of possible esoteric significances within the
community; the nature of authorized interpretation of the text, who is
authorized, and the nature of the authority which they wield; and the relation
between the Qur'án and the Last Day, ushered in by the Imam
Mahdí. All of these are issues of Shí'a Qur'ánic studies
worthy of exploration.
All of these topics, though manifold, rest on a common bedrock issue--the
authenticity of the text. In the above discussion of variants in the
Qur'án, the relation between Shí'ism and these variants, and the
state of Western scholarship on the topic, I have provided an overview of this
bedrock. It is on this foundation that further explorations can be made.
BIBLIOGRAPHY # 1:
BIBLIOGRAPHY, ARRANGED CHRONOLOGICALLY
(See BIBLIOGRAPHY # 2 for full reference citations.)
The following is a list of those books which specifically treat Shí'ism
and the Qur'án. Works marked "unavailable for this paper" were not
included either because I could not find a copy or because they are in a
language I do not read.
1842--Garcin de Tassy, A. "Chapitre inconnu du Coran." (unavailable for this paper)
1843--Kazem-Beg. "Observations... sur le Chapitre inconnu du Coran." (unavailable for this
1874--Goldziher, Isaac. Beiträge zur Literaturgeschichte der Shi'a... (unavailable for this
1901--Wellhausen, Julius. "...opposition parties in early Islam." (unavailable for this
1913--St. Clair Tisdall, W. "Shi'ah Additions to the Koran."
1920--Goldziher, I. Die Richtungen der islamishen Koranauslegung. (unavailable for this
1933--Donaldson, Dwight M. The Sh'ite [sic] Religion: A History of Islam in Persia and Irak.
1936--Jeffery, Arthur. "The Qur'án Readings of Zaid b. 'Alí."
1937--Jeffrey, Arthur. ...History of the Text of the Quran. (unavailable for this paper)
1961--Nöldeke, Theodor, et al.. Getschischte [sp.?] des Qoráns. (unavailable for this paper)
1961--Rahbar, Daud. "Relation of Shí'a Theology to the Qur'án."
1961--Von Grunebaum, G. E. Islam: Essays in the Growth of a Cultural Tradition.
1966--Eliash Joseph. 'Alí b. Abí Tálib in Ithna-'Asharí Shí'í Belief.
1969--Eliash, Joseph. "'The Shí'ite Qur'án:' A Reconsideration of Goldziher's
1972--Kohlberg, Etan. "...the Imamite Attitude to the Qur'án." (unavailable for this paper)
1975--Kohlberg, E. "An Unusual Shí'í isnád."
1975--Tabátabá'í, 'Allámah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn. Shí'ah Dar Islam (Shi'ite Islam).
1979--Jafri, S. Husain M. Origins and Early Development of Shi'a Islam.
1979--Schaefer, Udo. "Muhammad and the West."
1981--Sachedina, Abdulaziz A. Islamic Messianism: the Idea of the Mahdi in Twelver Shi'ism.
1982--Fyzee, Asaf A. A. A Shí'ite Creed: A Translation of I'tiqádátu 'l-Imámiyyah.
1984--Ayoub, Mahmoud M. The Qur'án and its Interpreters.
1985--Momen, Moojan. An Introduction to Shi'i Islam...
1985--Nelson, Kristina. The Art of Reciting the Qur'án.
1988--Ayoub, Mahmoud. "The Speaking Qur'an and the Silent Qur'an..."
1988--Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, et al, ed. Shi'ism: Doctrines, Thought, and Spirituality.
1988--Sachedina, Abdulaziz A. The Just Ruler in Shi'ite Islam.
1990--Fischer, Michael M. J., and Mehdi Abedi. Debating Muslims...
1991--Halm, Heinz. Shiism.
1991--Lawson, Todd B. "Note for the Study of a 'Shí'í Qur'án.'"
1992--Daftary, Farhad. The Ismá'ílís: Their History and Doctrines.
1992--Pinault, David. The Shiites: Ritual and Popular Piety in a Muslim Community.
1993--Bar-Asher, Meir M. "Variant Readings and Additions of [Shí'ism] to the Qur'án."
1993--Hawting, G.R., ed. Approaches to the Qur'an. (unavailable for this paper)
1993--Modarressi, Hossein. "Early Debates on the Integrity of the Qur'án: a Brief Survey."
1994--Amir-Moezzi, Mohammad Ali. Le Guide Divin Dans Le Shi'isme Originel.
BIBLIOGRAPHY, WITH FULL CITATIONS
Amir-Moezzi, Mohammad Ali. Le Guide Divin Dans Le Shi'isme Originel. Trans. by David
Streight as The Divine Guide in Early Shi'ism: The Sources of Esotericism in
Islam. State University of New York Press, Albany, 1994.
Armstrong, Karen. A History of God. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1993.
Ayoub, Mahmoud M. The Qur'án and its Interpreters. State University of New York
Press, Albany, 1984.
Ayoub, Mahmoud. "The Speaking Qur'an and the Silent Qur'an: A Study of the
Principles and Development of Imámí Shí'í tafsír," in Andrew Rippin, ed.,
Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qur'án. Oxford University
Press, Oxford, 1988, pp. 177-198.
Bar-Asher, Meir M. "Variant Readings and Additions of the Imámí-Shí'a to the
Qur'án." Israel Oriental Studies, 13 (1993), pp. 39-75.
Cragg, Kenneth. The Call of the Minaret. Oxford University Press, New York, 1964.
Daftary, Farhad. The Ismá'ílís: Their History and Doctrines. Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 1992.
Donaldson, Dwight M. The Sh'ite [sic] Religion: A History of Islam in Persia and
Irak [sic]. Luzac and Company, London, 1933.
Eliash, Joseph. 'Alí b. Abí Tálib in Ithna-'Asharí Shí'í Belief. Doctoral thesis,
University of London, 1966.
Eliash, Joseph. "'The Shí'ite Qur'án:' A Reconsideration of Goldziher's
Interpretation." Arabica: Revue d'Etudes Arabes, 16 (1969), pp. 15-24.
Encyclopedia Iranica. Ed. Ehsan Yarshater. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982 proceeding.
Encyclopedia of Islam. 1st ed. (ed. M. T. Houtsma et al.), 1913-34, 4 vols.; 2nd ed.
(ed. H. A. R. Gibb et al.), 1960 proceeding. E. J. Brill Leyden, and Luzac & Co.,
Fischer, Michael M. J., and Mehdi Abedi. Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in
Postmodernity and Tradition. The University of Wisconsin Press, London, 1990.
Fyzee, Asaf A. A. A Shí'ite Creed: A Translation of I'tiqádátu 'l-Imámiyyah. World
Organization for Islamic Services, Tehran, 1982.
Halm, Heinz. Shiism. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1991.
Jafri, S. Husain M. Origins and Early Development of Shi'a Islam. Librairie du
Liban, London, 1979.
Jansen, J. J. G. The Interpretation of the Koran in Modern Egypt. E. J. Brill,
Jeffery, Arthur. "The Qur'án Readings of Zaid b. 'Alí." Rivista degli Studi
Orientali, 16 (1936), pp. 249-289.
Kennedy, Hugh. The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates. Longman, London, 1986.
Kohlberg, E. "An Unusual Shí'í isnád." Israel Oriental Studies, 5 (1975), pp.
Lawson, Todd B. "Note for the Study of a 'Shí'í Qur'án.'" Journal of Semitic
Studies, 36/2 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 279-295.
Modarressi, Hossein. "Early Debates on the Integrity of the Qur'án: a Brief Survey."
Studia Islamica, 77 (1993), pp. 4-39.
Momen, Moojan. An Introduction to Shi'i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver
Shi'ism. George Ronald, Oxford, 1985.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, et al, eds. Shi'ism: Doctrines, Thought, and Spirituality.
State University of New York Press, New York, 1988.
Nelson, Kristina. The Art of Reciting the Qur'án. University of Texas Press, Austin,
Pinault, David. The Shiites: Ritual and Popular Piety in a Muslim Community. St.
Martin's Press, New York, 1992.
Rahbar, Daud. "Relation of Shí'a Theology to the Qur'án." Muslim World, 51 (1961),
pp. 92-98 and 211-216, continued in Muslim World, 52 (1962), pp. 17-21 and 124-128.
Sachedina, Abdulaziz A. Islamic Messianism: the Idea of the Mahdi in Twelver
Shi'ism. State University of New York Press, Albany, 1981.
Sachedina, Abdulaziz A. The Just Ruler in Shi'ite Islam: The Comprehensive Authority
of the Jurist in Imamate Jurisprudence. Oxford University Press, New York, 1988.
Schaefer, Udo, trans. Hélène Momtaz and Oliver Coburn. "Muhammad and the West," in
The Light Shineth in Darkness: Five Studies in Revelation after Christ. George
Ronald, Oxford, 1979, pp. 135-182.
Sharpe, Eric J. Comparative Religion: A History. Open Court, La Salle, Illinois,
St. Clair Tisdall, W. "Shi'ah Additions to the Koran." Moslem World, 3 (1913), pp.
Tabátabá'í, 'Allámah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn. Shí'ah Dar Islam. Translated by Seyyed
Hossein Nasr as Shi'ite Islam. State University of New York Press, Albany, 1975.
Von Grunebaum, G. E. Islam: Essays in the Growth of a Cultural Tradition. Routledge
and Kegan Paul Ltd., London, 1961.
York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1964), p. xi.
2 A few terms should be introduced here for the benefit of the
reader with little familiarity with Arabic. "Shi'a" is the (uninflected)
noun, "Shi'i" is the (nisba) adjective, and "Shi'ism" is the
English term for the whole of this branch of Islam. In places these terms are
somewhat interchangeable, and I chose arbitrarily. Also, I have used the phrase
"Shi'a studies" though perhaps it is not always the most felicitous. It is
meant to signify studies on Shi'ism, not necessarily studies by Shi'is. Where
necessary I will be more explicit in distinguishing between the two.
As another note, the variance between the diacritical system used in the
footnotes and in the body of the text was unavoidable.
3 Bernard Lewis, History: Remembered Recovered, Invented
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 54.
4 Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "Consensus." Accessed from the
Internet (Linkname: OED Logo Oxford English Dictionary; URL:
5 Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi'i Islam (Oxford:
George Ronald, 1985), pp. 45-54. Cf. also Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Karim
Shahrastani, Livre des religions et des sectes, vol. 1, trans. Daniel
Gimaret and Guy Monnot (Peeters: Unesco, 1986), pp. 435-566.
6 I will use the terms Shi'ism and Sunnism throughout this paper,
but this is simply out of convenience. Speaking objectively, neither the term
Shi'ism nor Sunnism can really be applied until at least the third century
A.H.; the only proper way to refer to the future Shi'is is with the term
'Alids, "followers of 'Ali." This, of course, is precisely the issue I am
examining, for Shi'is claim that their party can be traced back to the
time of the Prophet himself.
7 Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 23.
8 The former he entitles "The Lives of the Imams and Early Divisions
among the Shi'is," ibid. pp. 23-60, and the latter is "Early History of Shi'i
Islam," ibid. pp. 61-85.
9 "Fiction" is from Latin fictió, from fictus,
past participle of fingere, to form, which, though a different word from
"facéré," has a similar meaning.
10 Cf. below, p. 5 and pp. 7f.
11 Eric J. Sharpe, Comparative Religion: A History (Open
Court, La Salle, Illinois, 1986), p. 37.
12 Cf. Sharpe, Comparative Religion, chapter 7, "Religion,
Comparative and Absolute," pp. 144-173.
13 Udo Schaefer, "Muhammad and the West," in The Light Shineth in
Darkness: Five Studies in Revelation after Christ (George Ronald, Oxford,
1979), p. 136.
14 Cf. Inferno, Canto 28, vs. 10-12.
15 Schaefer, The Light Shineth, p. 136.
16 Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret (Oxford University
Press, New York, 1964), p. 186.
17 Schaefer, The Light Shineth, p. 135, n. 481.
18 Though I do not quote from it here, I would like to point out to
the reader the most complete survey of this topic available. It is Etan
Kohlberg's "Western Studies of Shi'a Islam," in Martin Kramer, ed., Shi'ism,
Resistance, and Revolution (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1987), pp.
31-46, also found under the same title in Belief and Law in Imami
Shi'ism (Hampshire, U.K.: Variorum, 1991), article II.
19 Dwight M. Donaldson, The Shi'ite [sic] Religion: A
History of Islam in Persia and Irak [sic] (Luzac and Company, London,
1933), p. vii. Cf. also Joseph Eliash, 'Ali b. Abi Talib in Ithna-'Ashari
Shi'i Belief (Doctoral thesis, University of London, 1966), p. 14.
20 Cf. Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide in Early
Shi'ism, trans. David Streight (Albany: State University of New York Press,
1994), p. 2f.
21 Heinz Halm, Shiism (Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh,
1991), p. 3.
22 Garcin de Tassy, quoted in Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide,
23 Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide, p. 80. Though it was
initially suspected to be a Shi'i sura, this has been disproved. See my "The
Shi'i Qur'an: An Examination of Western Scholarship," (Unpublished paper, The
University of Toronto, 1995), pp. 15-19.
24 Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide, p. 1.
25 Halm, Shiism, p. 3.
26 'Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i, Shi'ah Dar Islam,
trans. Seyyed Hossein Nasr as Shi'ite Islam (State University of New
York Press, Albany, 1975), p. 17 and n. 14.
27 Halm considers Momen's An Introduction to Shi'i Islam to
have surpassed Donaldson's in usefulness. (Halm, Shiism, p. 3).
28 Alessandro Bausani, in Forward to Momen, Shi'i Islam, p.
29 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, et al, eds. Shi'ism: Doctrines, Thought,
and Spirituality (State University of New York Press, New York, 1988), p.
30 Abdulaziz A. Sachedina, The Just Ruler in Shi'ite Islam: The
Comprehensive Authority of the Jurist in Imamate Jurisprudence (Oxford
University Press, New York, 1988), p. viii.
31 Daftary, Farhad, "Origins and early development of
Shi'ism," in The Isma'ilis: Their History and Doctrines (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 32-90.
32 Halm, Shiism, p. 4.
33 Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. xv.
34 Halm, Shiism, p. 2.
35 See my "The Shi'i Qur'an."
36 Some sources name both 'Ali and Abu Bakr as being first; Momen
reconciles the discrepancy by pointing out that what is likely meant is that,
while 'Ali was first believer, Abu Bakr was the first adult to follow Muhammad.
Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 325, note 2.
37 Donaldson claims that it appears that 'Ali seriously considered
pressing his claims even at this early stage, (Donaldson, The Shi'ite
Religion, p. 12) but Momen counters that, though 'Ali was urged to do so,
he refused. (Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 18).
38 Hugh Kennedy, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates
(Longman, London, 1986), p. 70.
39 Donaldson, The Shi'ite Religion, p. 21.
40 Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 22. It must be pointed out that
some scholars disagree with this statement. Cf. Halm, Shiism, p. 8:
"'Ali's Caliphate was disputed from the very beginning."
41 Halm, Shiism, p. 8.
42 Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 28.
43 Quoted in Halm, Shiism, p. 15.
44 Ayatollah Lutfollah Saafi Golpayegani, "A Reply to 'Belief of
Mahdism in Shia Imamia': A response to Sachedina's Islamic Messianism,"
trans. Dr. Hasan Najafi and ed. K. Najafi. (Toronto: I.H.A., no impress date),
45 Wehr gives, as possible meanings for ghadir, pond, pool,
puddle; stream, brook, creek, river. Hans Wehr, Arabic-English
Dictionary (Ithaca, NY: Spoken Language Services, 1976), s.v.
46 The following account is culled from four Shi'i sources:
Tabataba'i, Shi'ite Islam, pp. 68f., notes 6-9; Mohammad Amir Haider
Khan, ed. The Right Path, vol. I [A collection of letters between the
Shi'a Syed Abd-al-Husain Sharafuddeen and the Sunni Shaikh Saleem al-Bashari.]
(Karachi: Peermahomed Ebrahim Trust, 1959), pp. 191-214; Hassan al-Amin,
Islamic Shi'ite Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (Beirut: SLIM Press, 1970), pp.
250f.; and Mahmood Shehabi, "Shi'a," in Kenneth W. Morgan, ed., Islam, the
Straight Path: Islam interpreted by Muslims (New York: Ronald Press Co.,
1958), pp. 180-223.
48 al-Amin, Islamic Shi'ite Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 215.
49 Tabataba'i, Shi'ite Islam, p. 40, and p. 68, note 7,
50 Khan, The Right Path, vol. I, p. 207.
51 Cf. Khan, The Right Path, vol. I, p. 198ff.
52 Though al-Amini writes that the Ghadir Khumm did occur on 18
Dhu'l-Hijja (Eliash, 'Ali b. Abi Talib, p. 144), it is probable that
this date was chosen, not because it is certain that the event occurred on this
day, but because some Shi'i scholars concluded that it was most probably on
this day that 'Ali succeeded 'Uthman to the caliphate. Eliash, ibid., p. 135,
53 The festival was first institutionalized by Mu'izzu'd-Dawla in
Baghdad in 962. Interestingly, the Sunnis promptly retaliated by creating
festivals of their own, namely in commemoration of Abu Bakr's stay in the cave
and the death of Mus'ab ibn al-Zubayr, the defeater of Mukhtar. Cf. Eliash,
'Ali b. Abi Talib, pp. 137ff., note 7, and Momen, Shi'i Islam, p.
54 Quoted in Khan, The Right Path, vol. I, p. 206.
55 Khan, The Right Path, vol. I, p. 194, note 2. Wehr adds
that mawla can also mean protector, patron; client; charge; friend;
companion, associate. With the definite article, al-mawla, it can also
signify Lord or God. Wehr, Arabic-English Dictionary, s.v.
maulan. (Cf. note 58.) This term has had a number of different technical
meanings specific to different periods of Islamic history, but, since these
other meanings apply to events after 632, they are not relevant here.
56 Gimaret, trans. Shahrastani's Livre des religions, p. 479,
note 16. I translate "Curiously, the Sunnis don't seem to dispute" this
57 Quoted in Khan, The Right Path, vol. I, p. 209f.
58 Cf. above, note 55. This point needs to be clarified. Wehr's is
the only dictionary that explicitly lists this meaning of mawla. J. G.
Hava's Arabic-English Dictionary, s.v. [ARABIC], lists only "lord,
master," both lower case; E. W. Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon, s.v.
[ARABIC], first lists "synonym of "[ARABIC]," and follows it with the English
meanings "a lord or chief," again lower case; and Munir Ba'albaki's Modern
English-Arabic Dictionary, s.v. "lord," lists as translations first
sayyid and second mawla. Thus, Wehr is alone in explicitly
stating that al-mawla means "the Lord, God," in upper case, and hence it
must be pointed out that he could be incorrect. However, I think it more likely
that he is correct, and that the other three dictionaries merely fail to
mention said meaning. I draw this conclusion from the fact that
al-sayyid is one of the ninety-nine names of Muhammad, and mawla,
as a derivative of the name of God al-waliyyu, also indicates a divine
meaning. Hence, I believe "the Lord, God" to be an accurate translation of
59 A common Sufi interpretation is that 'Ali's Lordship is
spiritual, not political. While this interpretation is possible and valid, it
is a speculation which the meanings of mawla do not necessarily
60 The most extensive collection of Shi'i scholarship done to date
is by Mujtahid Ayatu'llah 'Abd al-Husayn al-Amini al-Najafi, entitled [ARABIC],
which I translate The (Event of) Ghadir in the Book, Tradition, and
Literature. This work comprises a full eleven volumes, totaling several
61 Donaldson, The Shi'ite Religion, p. 4f., and Eliash,
'Ali b. Abi Talib, p. 134-154.
62 Encyclopaedia Islamica, 1913 sqq. ed. and 1960 ed.,
searching under "'Ali ibn. Abi Talib," "Shi'a," "Muhammad," "pen," "ink,"
"saqifa," "Banu Sa'ida," and "Sa'ida."
63 Gimaret, trans. Shahrastani's Livre des religions, p. 479,
note 16. I translate: "Note, however, that in this occurrence [of the Ghadir
Khumm] the Imamiyyas draw their argument from that which the Prophet had
declared immediately prior--resorting to a term with the same root of WLY
[[ARABIC], the root of both mawla and awla] to be the worthiest
of all the believers."
64 Cf. Eliash, 'Ali b. Abi Talib, p. 153 and Donaldson,
The Shi'ite Religion, p. 2.
65 Gimaret, trans. Shahrastani's Livre des religions, p. 479,
note 16. I translate: "The authenticity of this enigmatic phrase isn't
contested. That which is contested, evidently, is the interpretation that the
Imamiyyas have given it."
66 Encyclopaedia Islamica, 2nd ed., s.v. Ghadir Khumm, p.
993. Italics added.
67 Eliash, 'Ali b. Abi Talib, p. 141 and p. 142, note 19.
68 Eliash, 'Ali b. Abi Talib, p. 142.
69 See section 3.2, below.
70 John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 84.
71 Literally "agreement," form IV masdar, from form I, "to gather."
72 Cf. Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 153ff., "The Conferment of the
Imamate by Designation or Covenant."
73 Encyclopaedia Islamica, 1913 sqq. ed., s.v. "'Ali b. Abi
Talib," p. 284.
74 Muhammad Ben 'Abd al-Karîm Shahrastâni, Les
dissidences de l'islam, trans. Jean-Claude Vadet (Paris: Librairie
Orientaliste Paul Geuthner S.A., 1984), p. 146. I translate "[al-Nazzam]
declare[d] that there is no such thing as the imamate without an express and
clearly-appointed designation displayed in an open and public fashion." (I am
using this statement of Shahrastani's without implying thereby that al-Nazzam
was either pro- or anti-Shi'a. Though Shahrastani claims that al-Nazzam had
"tendences pro-rafidites," Gimaret demonstrates that "l'attribution a [Nazzam]
des positions imamites traditionelles (la designation de l'imam par nass
et ta'yin, et que'Ali a fait l'objet d'un nass zahir...)
paraît être une pure invention de [Shahrastani]." Gimaret, trans.
Shahrastani's Livre des religions, 210, and 211, note 50. I quote
Shahrastani's al-Nazzam to cite the objection in the general, not to draw
conclusions about al-Nazzam's views. For a full explanation of certain Muslim
views of al-Nazzam, written by a Muslim, see Abu-Mansur 'Abd-al-Kahir ibn-Tahir
al-Baghdadi, Moslem Schisms and Sects, trans. Kate Chambers Seelye
(New York: Ams Press, Inc., 1966), pp. 135ff.
75 The following account is taken from al-Bukhari's "genuine"
(sahih) collection of hadiths, accessed from the Internet (Linkname:
Hadith Bukhari (English Translation); URL:
http://www.isnet.org/cgi-bin/hadith/bukhari), trans. and ed. anonymous, Volume
1, Book 3, Number 114.
76 Quoted in al-Amin, Islamic Shi'ite Encyclopedia, vol. 1,
77 Quoted in Khan, The Right Path, vol. II, p. 25.
78 Khan, The Right Path, vol. II, p 33, note.
79 Quoted in Eliash, 'Ali b. Abi Talib, p. 84ff.
80 See Tabataba'i, Shi'ite Islam, page 69, note 11, for more,
and full, references.
81 Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 15.
82 7:157 and 62:2.
83 Donaldson, The Shi'ite Religion, p. 46.
84 E.g. Daftary, The Isma'ilis; Philip K. Hitti, History
of the Arabs: From the Earliest Times to the Present (London: The MacMillan
Press Ltd., 1970); Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam. vol. 1: The
Classical Age of Islam (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974);
and W. Montgomery Watt, The Formative Period in Islamic Thought
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1973).
85 al-Hilli, quoted in Eliash, 'Ali b. Abi Talib, p. 85.
86 Eliash quotes from Rodwell's interpretation, citing it as verse
5:60, and he only mentions that part of the verse cited above. (Eliash, 'Ali
b. Abi Talib, p. 21). This is unfortunate. First, he uses a translation
with nonstandard numbering. The standard Cairene redaction numbers this as
verses 5:55-56. Two, he leaves off the most important segment. The Qur'an
continues "... As to those who turn to Allah, His Messenger, and the
believers,--it is the party of Allah that must certainly triumph." (5:56,
revised Yusuf Ali translation) The key term here for Shi'is is [ARABIC],
"party" of God, which they interpret to be a clear prefigurement of the
shi'at 'Ali, "party" of 'Ali.
87 Eliash, 'Ali b. Abi Talib, p. 92, and Tabari, quoted in
ibid., p. 152, respectively.
88 Comment on Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 3, Number 114. (See note
75.) The author of this statement says nothing more than this, and so I do not
understand clearly what exactly his or her point is.
89 The following account is culled from Momen, Shi'i Islam,
pp. 18ff.; Donaldson, The Shi'ite Religion, pp. 10-13; and al-Amin,
Islamic Shi'ite Encyclopedia, vol. 3, pp. 42-45.
90 Though I only mention the muhajirun and the ansar,
there was actually a number of competing claimant groups. al-Amin describes
five of these. Cf. al-Amin, Islamic Shi'ite Encyclopedia, vol. 3, pp.
91 S. Husain M. Jafri, Origins and Early Development of Shi'a
Islam (Librairie du Liban, London, 1979), pp. 37-57, presents a full review
of the facts of the event as well as a discussion of various reportages of it.
In sum, he finds that, but for minor details, all accounts of the event agree.
Cf. also Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 18.
92 Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 20.
93 Sharafuddeen, 63. Cf. also Donaldson, The Shi'ite Religion,
94 Quoted in Sharafuddeen, vol. 2, p. 61.
95 al-Amin, Islamic Shi'ite Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 44.
96 Shehabi, "Shi'a," p. 189.
97 Quoted in Donaldson, The Shi'ite Religion, p. 12.
98 Donaldson, The Shi'ite Religion, p. 12.
99 Sharafuddeen, vol. 2, 62.
100 Momen, Shi'i Islam, pp. 19f.
101 Daftary, The Isma'ilis, p. 37.
102 Marshall G. S. Hodgson, "How did the Early Shi'a Become
Sectarian?" (Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 75, 1955,
pp. 1-13), p. 2.
103 Montgomery W. Watt, The Majesty that was Islam (London:
Sidgwick and Jackson, 1974), p. 68. The Encyclopaedia Islamica expresses
a clearly-defined opinion on this: "There was... a Shi'at 'Ali... at the
very latest immediately after the death of the Prophet." Encyclopaedia
Islamica, 2nd. ed., s.v. "Shi'a," p. 350.
104 Shahrastani, in Vadet, trans. Shahrastâni's, Les
dissidences de l'islam, p. 146. I translate "Alone, 'Umar had wanted to
keep things secret in order to make Abu Bakr's candidacy prevail on the day of
the Saqifa." The reader may wonder why I am using three different translations
of Shahrastani. I do not have the original available to me, and have to juggle
the translations to find the most appropriate quotes to fit my context.
105 Etan Kohlberg, "Some Imami Shi'i views on the Sahaba", in
Belief and Law in Imami Shi'ism (Hampshire, U.K.: Variorum, 1991,
article IX), p. 146.
106 W. Montgomery Watt, "The Rafidites: A Preliminary Study"
(Oriens, vol. 16, 1993, pp. 110-121), p. 112.
107 Kennedy, The Prophet, p. 52.
108 Watt, "The Rafidites," p. 112.
109 See above, note. 55.
110 See above, p. 28.
111 Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 199.
112 This typology and the following exposition of it is drawn from
Lewis, History: Remembered, Recovered, Invented, pp. 11ff.
113 Lewis, History, p. 50.
114 Momen, Shi'i Islam, pp. 61ff.
115 Bernard Lewis, "The Shi'a in Islamic History," in Martin Kramer,
ed. Shi'ism, Resistance, and Revolution (Boulder, Colorado: Westview
Press, 1987), p. 24.
116 Watt, The Majesty that was Islam, p. 66.
117 Montgomery W. Watt, "The Significance of the Early Stages of
Imami Shi'ism," in Nikki R. Keddie, ed. Religion and Politics: Shi'ism from
Quietism to Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 21.
118 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 120.
119 Cf. any study of linguistic theory from the death of Ferdinand
Saussure (1857-1913) to the present.
120 Mark C. Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 54.
121 Taylor, Erring, p. 66. Italics in original.
122 Taylor, Erring, p. 67.
123 See above, p. 9.
124 Cf. G. E. von Grunebaum, "Self-Image and Approach to History,"
in Bernard Lewis and P. M. Holt, eds., Historians of the Middle East
(London: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 457-483.
125 Bernard Lewis, "The Shi'a in Islamic History," p. 24.
126 Momen, Shi'i Islam, p. 61.
127 Hodgson, "How did the Early Shi'a Become Sectarian?," p. 5.