The Collection of the Qur'an by John Burton Review by: Wilferd Madelung International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol

. 10, No. 3 (Aug., 1979), pp. 429-430 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 19/10/2012 21:28
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Int. J. Middle East Stud. 10 (1979), 429-432

Printed in Great Britain




JOHN BURTON, The Collection of the Our'dJn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

I977). Pp. 273. The principal thesis of the present book is that the official, so-called 'Uthmanic version of the Qur'an was established by the Prophet Muhammad himself rather than the third Caliph 'Uthman, as is generally affirmed by Muslim tradition and has been accepted by Western scholarship following N6ldeke and Schwally. The author holds that this version is the only one that ever existed and that the Muslim reports about variant readings and codices collected by several Companions of Muhammad which were suppressed after the promulgation of the official version by 'Uthman and about the intentional deletion of some verses by Muhammad from the early body of Qur'anic revelations are fictitious. He argues that the primary motive for the invention of these variant versions allegedly sanctioned by the Prophet was the attempt of the Muslim scholars of the law to establish a Qur'anic basis for the legal practice often found to be at variance with the rules laid down in the standard version. In this regard, he analyzes the theory of naskh, abrogation, elaborated by the Muslim scholars, focusing in particular on the variety known as naskh al-tildwa dzna l-hukm which implies the deletion of a text from the Qur'an without abrogation of the legal rule established by it. The admission of this type of naskh by some Muslim authorities necessitated, Dr. Burton contends, the exclusion of any role of Muhammad in the collection of the standard version since it would be inconceivable that he himself deleted a passage while maintaining its legal validity. He further suggests that the two verses of the Qur'an referring to the occurrence of naskh or tabdil (II, Io6; XVI, Ioi) mean the abrogation of ritual or legal rules of previous prophetic religions by Islam, not the abrogation or deletion of Qur'anic texts as maintained by Muslim tradition. The study of the early history of Islam faces severe methodological problems. Islamic sources in the form of narrative reports are copious but late. The motives for tendentious transformation and fabrication were evidently strong. Modern scholars have uncovered the tendentiousness of much of this late tradition. There has been less agreement as to how much of it that is not obviously tendentious or anachronistic can be accepted as a basis for the history of the early period. Burton expressly puts his study on the basis of the results of the work of J. Schacht who in respect to the Muslim legal traditions came to reject categorically any attribution to the Companions, not to speak of the Prophet, as fictitious. He suggests plausibly that the reports about the Qur'an readings of the Companions have no sounder claim to authenticity than the legal traditions attributed to them and holds against the method of Schwally that 'we cannot in our arrogance continue to presume that guided by mere literary intuition we can safely pick our way, selecting or rejecting hadiths on the excuse that where no motive for any particular statement is discernible by us, none was intended' (p. 234). On the-other hand, one may wonder if a closer study of the chain of transmitters of these reports in combination with the contents may not lead to a clearer view of the development and chronology of the Muslim tradition concerning the collection of the Qur'an. Such a method has recently been advocated and employed with good, though admittedly tentative, results by J. van Ess in a study of the Muslim traditions concerning predestination (Zwischen Hadit und Theologie [Berlin, I975]). Although this method could not have any direct bearing on the early period of the alleged codices of the Companions, a better understanding of the subsequent development might indirectly shed some light on the origins. Dr. Burton's positive conclusion that the Qur'an was edited and promulgated by



Muhammad does not in itself seem to rest on sufficiently stringent argument. Even if some legal scholars had a motivation for denying the existence of an official version sanctioned by the Prophet in order to base a particular local practice on alleged variant readings of some Companions, would not others who did not share this motivation have resisted such an attempt to deprive the standard text of prophetic authorization? The motive for attributing a decisive role in the collection of the Qur'an to Muhammad must have been strong for most Mluslims. Dr. Burton indeed refers to reports which attribute such a decisive role to Muhammad leaving not much more than the official promulgation and suppression of variant codices to 'Uthman (p. 214). It is definitely not the case that the Muslims carefully 'excluded their Prophet from the history of the collection of their Qur'an texts' (p. 232). Burton suggests that the doctrine of naskh al-tildwa duna l-hukm specifically provided a decisive motive for excluding the Prophet from the collection of the standard text. This form of naskh was, however, clearly exceptional and was not admitted by all scholars. Burton can mention only two instances of its occurrence. One of them does concern a matter in which the rules of all the legal schools were in conflict with those laid down in the standard version of the Qur'an. The punishment of stoning for adulterers affirmed by the schools was generally based on the so-called stoning verse which was reported to have been part of the early Qur'an but to have later been omitted. One of the reports quoted by Burton states, however, that it was the Prophet himself who forbade 'Umar to record the verse as part of the Qur'an (pp. 8If.). None of the other reports expressly denies such a role of the Prophet. They assert that 'Umar, after he became Caliph, refrained from recording the stoning verse in the Qur'an merely out of fear that he might be accused of having added to the sacred book. This may be understood to mean either that all other Companions had forgotten the verse or that they were aware that the Prophet had forbidden its recording. The evidence that the doctrine of naskh al-tildwa duna l-hukm induced the Muslim scholars to suppress the role of Muhammad in the collection of the standard version of the Qur'an thus is tenuous. University of Chicago

H. T. NORRIS, The Tuaregs: Their Islamic Legacy and Its Diffusion in the Sahel
(Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1975). Pp. 234.

The first thing that has to be said about what is essentially a most valuable contribution to the intellectual history of West Africa is that it contains too many inconsistencies of transcription and typographical errors to be overlooked, however much one's admiration for the real value of the work might incline one to overlook them. That said, the book is admirable. Especially useful for literary history are the accounts of the 'Equestrian Diviner' and the 'Garamantian Charioteer,' which suggest origins for a number of equestrian themes in West African vernacular literature, especially Hausa. New light is thrown on the history of Islamic ideas in the Sahara by Norris's detailed study of the Kel-Es-Suq and their doctrine of pacifism and quietism, which, apparently, they owe to al-Suyluti. Illuminating too is his study of the relative influence on Tuareg Islam of al-Suyuti and al-Maghili, which leads him to the conclusion that the former represented an easygoing, indulgent line, conducive to the 'mixed' Islam of the area; while the latter represented a line of radical, iconoclastic reformism. The way in which these two opposing attitudes towards the problems arising in a society still undergoing islamization interact makes fascinating reading. The role of the Kunta in propagating the Qadiriyya in West Africa has long been recognized. Norris now suggests, and with convincing arguments, that the Tuareg Ineslemen and especially the Kel-Es-Suq may have been at least as important in this

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