Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
>>   Personal pages Unpublished Articles
TAGS: Interfaith dialogue; Islam; Kitab-i-Iqan (Book of Certitude); Quran; Shiism; Taqiyyah (dissimulation)
> add tags
In the Kitab-i-Iqan (pp. 84-89) Bahá'u'lláh rejects the charge that the text of the Bible has been tampered with. Many Shi'is have charged the same, accusing Sunnis of removing the proofs of Ali's appointment as leader of the community from the Qur'an.
This paper examines the treatment of the topic by Western academics, but it contains no mention of the Bahá'í Faith. However, the "corruption" of texts was discussed extensively by Bahá'u'lláh, and I believe that Bahá'u'lláh quoted passages from the "Shi'i" Qur'an" that are not in the "Sunni Qur'an." Scholars and wise Persian believers, please correct me if that's wrong.

Shi'i Qur'an:
An Examination of Western Scholarship

by Jonah Winters

Table of Contents








Part One: Orientalism, Islam, and Shí'ism


The Qur'án[1] 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.[2]

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[3] 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 the cosmos.

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 treatment."[4]

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.[5] 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.


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,[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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 happenstance.

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."[9] Dante describes Muhammed's and 'Alí's sufferings in hell in terms almost unrivaled in their horror in the entire trilogy,[10] and Voltaire's drama "Mahomet" makes Muhammed commit the most horrifying atrocities.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]


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[14] works.[15] 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,[16] 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.[17] 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."[18] This "new" sura was republished the following year in the same journal, complete with verse numberings and vocalizations.[19] 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,"[20] 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."[21] 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[22]), it quickly achieved the status of being considered the foremost authoritative textbook on Shí'ism, a place it held until quite recently.[23]

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."[24] 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,[25] 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.[26]

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 active.


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,"[27] or, more simply, al-tá'ifa, "the Group."[28] 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.[29]

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.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32] 'Uthmán, the alternate choice, accepted the caliphate. Though 'Alí expressed a certain hesitation in offering 'Uthmán his support,[33] 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.[34]

'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.[35] 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[36] 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.[37] 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.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40] 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.[41]


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.[42] 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.[43] 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.[44] 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.[45] 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.[46] 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 plane.

Part Two: Scholarship on the Shí'í Qur'án


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 scholarship.[47]

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.[48] 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.[49] 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.[50] 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."[51] 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.


The Qur'án has a history of its own[52] 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."[53] 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,[54] 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.[55]

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."[56]

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 of scholarship.[57]


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."[58] 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.[59] The purpose of this compilation was thus inspired, not by variant readings, but merely by the recognition that a complete collection was needed.[60] 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.[61] 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.[62] 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.[63] Although the Egyptian edition is now the predominant one, the other variant readings are still acknowledged to be equally canonical.

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.[64] 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.[65] 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.[66] 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.[67] 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.[68] 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.[69] 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 Qur'án.

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.'"[70] 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."[71] 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.[72] 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,"[73] 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,[74] 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.[75] At least twelve studies in English followed this seminal examination, most of which will be discussed below.[76] 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."[77]

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] which, besides the Shí'í alternative versions to some of the Qur'ánic verses, two apocryphal Súras were also included."[78] Again, like Von Grunebaum, Bar-Asher offers no further explanation as to why these suras are Shí'í, and does not mention them again.[79]

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]."[80] 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."[81] 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.[82] 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.[83] 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 Shí'í.


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.[84] 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.[85] 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.[86] 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.[87] 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.[88] 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.[89] 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."[90] 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.[91] 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.[92] 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,[93] 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.[94] No conclusions about the Shí'í Qur'án presented in this text differ substantially from the above-mentioned studies;[95] I merely mention the book here to complete the catalogue of academic investigations into the topic.

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.'"[96] 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."[97] 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."[98] 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 depth.

Ben-Asher divides the known variants into four categories.[99] 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.[100]

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,"[101] 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![102] 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 works.

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.


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 Shí'ism proper.

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.[103] 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.[104] 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 'Alids.[105]

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.[106] He details the process by which these alleged omissions and alterations grew into what he calls "monographs of considerable size" in the Sunni literature.[107] 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.[108] 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."[109]

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."[110] 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.[111] 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."[112] 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.[113] 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 historical foundation."[114]

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.[115] 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.[116] 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."[117] 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.[118] 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].[119]

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."[120]

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."[121] 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 academic community.

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.[122] 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.[123] 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 Codex."[124]

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.[125] 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.[126]


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 considered.

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.[127] 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.



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.                    


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,         
Leiden, 1974.                                                                          
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.                                                   

1 Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths (New 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, p. 80.

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. xi.

29 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, et al, eds. Shi'ism: Doctrines, Thought, and Spirituality (State University of New York Press, New York, 1988), p. 1.

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), p. 17.

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. ghadir.

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.

47 [Arabic]

48 al-Amin, Islamic Shi'ite Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 215.

49 Tabataba'i, Shi'ite Islam, p. 40, and p. 68, note 7, respectively.

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, note 3.

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. 82, note.

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 phrase.

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 al-mawla.

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 justify.

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 thousand pages.

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:, trans. and ed. anonymous, Volume 1, Book 3, Number 114.

76 Quoted in al-Amin, Islamic Shi'ite Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 254.

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. 42-43.

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, p. 13.

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.

Back to:   Personal pages Unpublished Articles
Home Site Map Links Copyright About Contact
. .