ISLAM: Basis - Past - Present - Future


Part 5:

Uthman's Rearrangement of the Chronological (as revealed) Koran's Chapters


by Manfred Davidmann

Line
 
  Links to
Other Subjects;
Other Publications




 


Contents

Overview
Introduction
Chapters Marked by 'Abbreviated Letters'
Chronological (historical) Sequence of Chapters

Uthman's Rearrangement of both Sequence and Location of the Chapters
Figure 1: Comparison between Uthman's Koran and the 'As Revealed' Sequence

Effect of the Changes

Abrogation
Consensus
Mohammed's Teachings

Relevant Current and Associated Works

Notes <..>, References {..} and Links

Appendix
Chronological Frequency of Chapters with Abbreviated Letters, According to Different Scholars

Relevant Subject Index Pages and Site Overview



Overview

The aim of this report is to assemble an objective picture of what took place and of its background, looking in some detail at how the Koran was compiled so as to show what Mohammed taught in the name of God (Allah), and how this was recorded.

What we have is the Koran and traditions collected many years after the death of the Prophet. However, some uncertainty remains and so we are here embarking on a journey of exploration which will take us through the accumulated dust of many centuries to what Mohammed actually taught, to the revealed word of Allah, of God.

The report consists of seven consecutive free-standing parts. The seven parts follow each other in an intended sequence in which each is aiding and contributing to understanding the following part. The parts are:

1     Prophet Mohammed's Struggle for a Better Life for All
             
       

The information brought together in Part 1 relates primarily to Mohammed's struggle for recognition of his mission and message and is limited to this. Knowing about, and understanding, Mohammed's struggle is of vital importance if one wishes to understand what Mohammed taught, the Koran and Muslim belief and practice.

Throughout his whole life as Prophet he struggled against the powerful Meccan ruling elite, against the Meccan family which dominated Mecca, the Quraysh. They first opposed and then persecuted him and his followers for ten years, following which he fought them for ten years till he won and then he died.

So we need to know just what Mohammed taught which upset the elite so thoroughly and persistently, which caused him and his followers to be so harshly opposed and so actively persecuted.

         
2     Text, Language, Dialect and Interpretation of the Koran
         
       

The first step towards understanding the intent and substance of God's (Allah's) revelations as expressed by Mohammed's teachings, is to gain knowledge about the then developing Arabic written language, that is to understand how recorded letters and symbols were used to state the meaning of words, and about the dialects of the time.

Such knowledge and understanding is particularly important when considering how the Koran was assembled and what scholars and clerics have done and are doing when they are 'interpreting' the text of the Koran.

         
3     The Divine Right to Rule
         
       

Following Parts 1 and 2 we are here looking at the struggle for power and control over the Muslim community which took place after Mohammed died and seeing how Muslim belief and practice evolved in the two hundred years under the caliphs.

These events and struggles formed Sunnism and Shiism, shaped the Koran and Muslim belief and practice, underlie today's conflicts and confrontations within Islam.

         
4     Compiling the Koran: Hadiths (Traditions) State the Underlying Reality
         
       

Hadiths (traditions) tell that Zaid bin Thabit compiled the Koran and that Caliph Uthman later had an official version prepared.

The arabic text of these hadiths recorded the underlying reality. They state that on the one hand we have the word of benevolent Allah as taught by Mohammed that people (believers) should have a good life of high quality in this life, but that on the other hand is the ruling elite's opposing viewpoint that people should be obedient and serve willingly without questioning their condition.

         
5     Uthman's Rearrangement of the Chronological (as revealed) Koran's Chapters
         
        The important chapters (suras) singled out by 'abbreviated letters' show how the chronological (as revealed) sequence was changed. The effect of the changes on the record of Mohammed's preaching and teaching is described and followed by a discussion of the doctrines of 'Abrogation' and of 'Consensus' in relation to Mohammed's teachings.
         
6     Prophet Mohammed's Word of Allah and the Voice of the Ruling Elite
         
       

Mohammed's social teachings are stated from Koran chapters (suras) singled out by 'Abbreviated Letters', statements of revelation from compassionate and caring Allah. It seems that some self-seeking doctrines were added later by the ruling elite of that time.

The content of the corresponding compassionate and benevolent teachings are described as are the Koran's stated rewards for following them and the consequences of ignoring or opposing them.

         
7     Muslims and Jews
         
       

Includes a comprehensive summary table of the struggles of the Muslims while Mohammed was alive, primarily against the Meccan ruling elite but also including their conflicts with the Jewish Medinan clans.

The unexpected but convincing conclusions are directly relevant to understanding present tensions and conflicts within Islam.

     
See    
     
1   Prophet Mohammed's Struggle for a Better Life for All
     
2   Text, Language, Dialect and Interpretation of the Koran
     
3   The Divine Right to Rule
     
4   Compiling the Koran: Hadiths (Traditions) State the Underlying Reality
     
5   Uthman's Rearrangement of the Chronological (as revealed) Koran's Chapters
     
6   Prophet Mohammed's Word of Allah and the Voice of the Ruling Elite
     
7   Muslims and Jews



Introduction

Uthman's review of the Koran included fixing the Koran's number of chapters (suras) and the arranging of these chapters into a sequence roughly according to length of chapter instead of according to the sequence of revelation or by subject. {2} <1>.

One would like to know what changes were made, and their extent, so as to differentiate between the word of Allah as taught by Mohammed and any added or superimposed words of other people. We need to determine what changes were made, who made them and why they were made, need to see who gained at whose cost from the changes which were made. <2>


So let us begin by looking at the sequence of the chapters in the Koran. In Uthman's Koran they are arranged roughly according to length of chapter, long at the beginning, short at the end, without regard to the order in which they were revealed or their subject matter.

What can be shown is how the chronological (order of revelation) sequence of the chapters (suras) was re-arranged and the important and determining impact these changes have had.


Chapters Marked by 'Abbreviated Letters'

In the Koran there are twenty-nine chapters which are marked by 'abbreviated letters' at the beginning of the Chapter. The meaning and purpose of these letters is unknown and of them it is said that 'Allah knows best', meaning that only God knows their meaning and purpose. However, with their help we can begin to see what was done to the revealed information by Uthman's editors.


Chronological (historical) Sequence of Chapters

A number of scholars have separately analysed the contents of the Koran's chapters and put forward a chronological (historical) sequence for them {1} <3>. There are differences between the scholars but we can combine their findings for the chapters with abbreviated letters to obtain a clear view of how the chronological sequence of the suras was changed.

Their individual findings are listed in the Appendix as chronological frequencies.


Uthman's Rearrangement of both Sequence and Location of the Koran's Chapters

The findings of the scholars were combined by averaging the frequencies and then compared with Uthman's Koran, as shown in Table 1.


Table 1

Uthman's Rearrangement of the Location of the Chapters with Abbreviated Letters

Range
Ref No
    Position
(Range)
    Uthman     Scholars
(Average)
             
 1    1- 9   3   0.25
 2   10-19   7   0.25
 3   20-29   5   0
 4   30-39   5   1.00
 5   40-49   7   2.25
 6   50-59   1   6.25
 7   60-69   1   5.50
 8   70-79       6.25
 9   80-89       4.75
10   90-99       2.00
11   100-109       0.50
12   110-114       0
             
Totals       29   29

A number in the 'Scholars' column is the average of the four sources.

The data shows where the chapters (with abbreviated letters) are placed in the Koran, first by Uthman and second by the chronological sequence of the scholars. For example, Uthman placed 3 of the chapters among the first 9 chapters in the Koran, the scholars placed 2 of the chapters among chapters 90-99.

The findings are shown in Figure 1. What is shown is the frequency of occurrence of chapters which start with abbreviated letters, from the beginning of the Koran on the left of the chart, to its end on the right.

What is clear, and beyond doubt, is that these important chapters were transferred from the middle and end part of the chronological (as revealed) sequence to near the beginning of the (Uthmanic) Koran.


Figure 1      Comparison between Uthman's Koran and the 'As Revealed' Sequence


Comparison between Uthman's Koran and the 'As Revealed' Sequence

Back to Contents list



Effect of the Changes

The 'As Revealed' line in Figure 1 shows that the chapters which are marked by abbreviated letters belong to what is probably the most important part of the Koran, from the point of view of Mohammed's life and of revelation. He is the religious head of a struggling but expanding religious community, is reaching more and more followers. A movement has formed and the Prophet is preaching and teaching the words of Allah about humane behaviour and social justice.

But Uthman had these important chapters transferred to near the beginning of the Koran.


God would reveal His words in the best order for His intended purpose, and surely subject by subject, one subject at a time.

If God had wanted to reveal them in any other sequence, He would have done so. But He did not do so.


So the question arises, why the change? Why did Uthman have the chapters of the Koran rearranged in this apparently illogical way?

Possibly because placing these chapters at the beginning of the Koran tends to give the impression that they belong to an earlier period of revelation, that other 'later' chapters are perhaps more important than those at the beginning, that if in doubt the 'later' chapters may modify, or even overrule, the earlier ones.

Back to Contents list



Abrogation

Here we are looking at the Muslim doctrine of 'Abrogation'.

The Muslim doctrine of abrogation is based on four verses of the Koran <4> {1}, according to which

1a    
If Mohammed forgets a verse, God will bring a similar verse.
In other words, that verses have been added on the understanding that Mohammed had forgotten them.
2  
God deletes or confirms what He will.
In other words, that verses have been deleted.
3
1b
 
God (sometimes) substitutes one verse for another.
If God cancels a verse, God will bring a better verse.
In other words, that some verses have been replaced by other ones.
4  
God abrogates (cancels or withdraws) verses thrown in by Satan.
In other words, that some verses were cancelled.
In other words,
Verses have been added on the understanding that Mohammed had forgotten them.
Verses have been deleted.
Some verses have been replaced by other ones.
Some verses were cancelled.

So that
some verses have been added,
some verses were replaced by other verses, and
some verses were deleted,

by God.


In the Koran, to give but a few examples from some suras starting with abbreviated letters (suras 40-41, 43-46), Allah (God)
is 'mighty' and 'the Mighty One' (4 mentions)
is 'wise' and 'the Wise One' (4 mentions)
is 'all-knowing' (2 mentions)
'knows all', 'hears all', 'sees what you do', 'observes all'. (7 mentions)
God judges with justice and truth, is compassionate and merciful. (in 2 mentions)
God encompasses all things and God's promise is true (in 2 mentions).

Considering how the Koran describes God's attributes, I fail to understand why God the All-knowing (including the past, the present and the future) would wish to change what God has already revealed. And I am left with the impression that adding, deleting and changing verses is more a symptom of human lack of understanding of God's will and intent, or is more likely to arise from a need to change verses which may have been introduced by ordinary people, than it is likely that God the All-knowing and All-mighty would need to change what He revealed in the first place.

Again, the four suras which contain verses justifying or permitting 'abrogation' were also moved from near the end of the chronological sequence of suras to near the beginning of the Koran. However, these verses may have been placed at the beginning of the Koran to justify or explain later changes or inconsistencies.


Muslims had to decide which verses of the Koran were abrogated (cancelled or over-ruled by others) and which remained valid.

Some took a wide view of this doctrine, including the abrogation of the laws of the Pagan Arabs, or of Jews or Christians, through the revelation of the Koran. Or to admit the possibility of an ordinance of the Koran being abrogated by the sunna <5>. {1}

But then others held that the doctrine meant that one verse of the Koran can abrogate another and that one would need to have a direct statement of the Prophet or of one of the Companions to this effect. But that one could assume that one verse abrogated another if there was a contradiction between them and their dates were known. It was also taken that abrogation applied only to commands, not to narratives or promises or threats. On this basis the number of abrogations is about twenty.


Consensus

Another 'rule' is that of consensus (ijma) which states that it is impossible for the united community (umma) to err.


But we are not allowed to follow a majority or a 'united community' to do evil, to transgress.

And to be able to live accordingly, knowing the difference between good and evil, we need a clear statement of that which is 'good', of Allah's (God's) benevolent social laws and system. We need clear knowledge of what Mohammed actually taught in the name of Allah (God).


Mohammed's Teachings

What we have seen so far are clear statements handed down to us by validated hadiths (traditions). We are told that Zaid bin Thabit recorded Mohammed as teaching that Allah was benevolent, compassionate and caring, that people are to have good lives of high quality. And that Zaid's collation (Hafsa's copy) is part of the Koran as we know it. {5}

We also saw that Uthman ordered textual changes to be made giving preference to the ruling elite's contrary opinions {5}. And we have now seen that the 'as revealed' sequence of suras starting with abbreviated letters was changed for no apparent reason.

So opposing viewpoints changed, were superimposed on, what Mohammed taught in the name of Allah.

We need to know what Mohammed taught and Part 6 shows {6} how the Koran records what Mohammed taught in the name of Allah, and also what appear to be later modifications by the ruling elite.



Relevant Current and Associated Works

Other relevant current and associated reports by Manfred Davidmann:
     
     
Title   Description
     
Prophet Mohammed's Struggle for a Better Life for All     Mohammed's struggle for recognition of his mission and message against the powerful Meccan ruling elite. They opposed and then persecuted him and his followers for ten years, following which he fought them for ten years till he won and then he died.
     
Text, Language, Dialect and Interpretation of the Koran   How the written Arabic language developed from the time of Mohammed and how the Koran was assembled. How recorded letters and symbols were used to state the meaning of words. Compares 'readings' and interpretations.
     
The Divine Right to Rule   The struggle for power and control over the Muslim community after Mohammed died and how Muslim belief and practice evolved under the caliphs. These events and struggles formed Sunnism and Shiism, shaped the Koran and Muslim belief and practice.
     
Compiling the Koran: Hadiths (Traditions) State the Underlying Reality   Zaid bin Thabit compiled the Koran, Caliph Uthman had an official version prepared. Mohammed taught that people (believers) should have a good life, the ruling elite considered that people should serve willingly.
     
Uthman's Rearrangement of the Chronological (as revealed) Koran's Chapters   Chapters (suras) marked by 'abbreviated letters' show how the sequence of the Koran's chapters was changed. The effects of the changes on the record of Mohammed's preaching and teaching are described as are the doctrines of 'Abrogation' and 'Consensus'.
     
Prophet Mohammed's Word of Allah and the Voice of the Ruling Elite   Mohammed's social teachings are stated from chapters (suras) singled out by 'Abbreviated Letters', statements of revelation from compassionate and caring Allah. It seems that some self-seeking doctrines were added later by the ruling elite of that time.
     
Muslims and Jews   Includes a comprehensive summary table of the struggles of the Muslims while Mohammed was alive, including their conflicts with the Jewish Medinan clans. The conclusions are directly relevant to understanding present tensions and conflicts within Islam.
     
The Meaning of Genesis: Creation, Evolution and the Origin of Evil   Shows that there is no conflict, no contradiction, no divergence, only awe-inspiring agreement, between what is recorded in Genesis and what we know about the evolution of human beings. And Genesis defines good and evil, pointing to the root of evil.
     
One Law for All: Freedom Now, Freedom for Ever   Document describing the struggles within Judaism which accompanied the birth of Rabbinical Judaism, how people felt about what was happening, how the Talmud recorded events and what would have to be done to reverse the trend of events.
     
Causes of Antisemitism   Shows that there are two separate root causes of antisemitism. One cause can be remedied by increasing peoples' awareness, the other is under the control of the Jewish people and can be remedied from within.
     
ORIGIN OF CHRISTIANITY and JUDAISM   Proves by methods of biblical archaeology what Jesus really taught, how Paul changed what Jesus had taught, how this became Christianity's official doctrine. Outstanding are sections on Paul and the Gospels, on concurrent corresponding changes in Judaism.


Back to Contents list



Notes, References and Links


Notes

<1>     From Part 2. See {3}
     
<2>   See {5}, that is see Part 4, about how the opinions of the ruling elite were included in the Koran.
     
<3>   See {1}: Sources: Muir, Noeldeke, Grimme, Egyptian
     
<4>   sura:verse;    2:100; 13:39; 16:103; 22:51
     
<5>   The sunna is the body of Islamic social and legal custom. See {4}


References and Links

{1}     Introduction to the Qur'an
Richard Bell
University Press Edinburgh, 1958}
     
{2}   Jam' al-Qur'an: The Codification of the Qur'an Text:
John Gilchrist
MERCSA, 1989
     
{3}   Text, Language, Dialect and Interpretation of the Koran
Manfred Davidmann
http://www.solhaam.org/
     
{4}   The Divine Right to Rule
Manfred Davidmann
http://www.solhaam.org/
     
{5}   Compiling the Koran: Hadiths (Traditions) State the Underlying Reality
Manfred Davidmann
http://www.solhaam.org/
     
{6}   Prophet Mohammed's Word of Allah and the Voice of the Ruling Elite
Manfred Davidmann
http://www.solhaam.org/



Appendix

Chronological Frequency of Chapters with Abbreviated Letters, According to Different Scholars   {1}

Range
Ref No
  Range
of Position
  Number of Suras in each Range, According to Different Scholars
                         
        Uthman's
Koran
  Egyptian   Noldeke
(=Bell)
  Grimme   Muir
                         
 1   0-9   3   1            
 2   10-19   7       1        
 3   20-29   5                
 4   30-39   5   3       1    
 5   40-49   7   6       2   1
 6   50-59   1   5   7   7   6
 7   60-69   1   7   3   6   6
 8   70-79       2   9   5   9
 9   80-89       4   6   6   3
10   90-99       1   3   1   3
11   100-109               1   1
12   110-114                    
                         
    Totals   29   29   29   29   29



Relevant Subject Index Pages and Site Overview


The Site Overview page has links to all individual Subject Index Pages which between them list the works by Manfred Davidmann which are available on the Internet, with short descriptions and links for downloading.

To see the Site Overview page, click Overview

Back to Contents list


Line

Copyright    ©    2003    Manfred Davidmann
All rights reserved worldwide.

History
20/01/04 To Website.
02/02/04 Some textual improvements.