Quran Errors in Transmission
Many Muslims believe the Quran is without error and exists exactly as Muhammad recited:
The original texts of most of the former divine Books were lost altogether, and only their translations exist today. The Qur’an, on the other hand, exists exactly as it had been revealed to the Prophet; not a word – nay, not a dot of it – has been changed. It is available in its original text and the Word of God has been preserved for all times to come. (Abul A’la Maududi, Towards Understanding Islam, [Gary: IN, 1970], 109)
The orientalist A.J. Arberry in the foreword to his translation of the meaning of the Quran wrote:
Apart from certain orthographical modifications of the originally somewhat primitive method of writing, intended to render unambiguous and easy the task of reading and recitation, the Koran as printed in the twentieth century is identical with the Koran as authorized by ‘Uthmān more than 1,300 years ago. (ix)
The following list of Quran errors is to demonstrate that such beliefs are not true. My goal is to help Muslims understand that the Quran has a history of transmission errors, and that they should not dismiss the Bible because of its textual history.
The first complete Arabic Quran in moveable type
The first known complete Arabic Quran, printed by movable type, appeared in Venice in 1537-8. A very faulty Quranic text was found in the 1980s.1Michael W. Albin, “Printing of the Qur’an.” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005), CD-ROM version.
Perhaps the most important—and most elusive—printed book in Arabic is the edition of the Koran produced by the Venetian printer Paganino de’ Paganini in 1537-38. All copies were thought to have perished in a fire until one remaining example was discovered in the 1980s in the library of the Frati Minori di San Michele ad Isola in Venice. The edition was probably intended as a commercial venture, but its odd typeface was quite unacceptable by Muslim calligraphic norms, and the numerous errors in the Koranic text were even more objectionable to Muslim sensibilities. As a commercial—or even an evangelical—venture, it was not a success (Jonathan Bloom, Paper before Print: The History and Impact of Paper on the Islamic World, [New Haven 2001], 220).
Qurans printed in India and Pakistan
Printers in India and Pakistan admit to printing errors:
The Qurʾāns of India and Pakistan are characteristically individual in appearance and are often the result of personal devotions rather than the product of corporate investment or organized outreach. The Qurʾān of 1964 published in Shillong, East Pakistan embodies these idiosyncrasies. It is an Arabic text with English translation and with running commentary by Khadim Rahmani. In his introduction he says, “This being the first edition and the process of printing being a difficult one, we had to engage a local press for doing the job, so as to maintain a constant vigil and guidance all along the printing. Yet in spite of our best efforts, some printing mistakes cropped up.”
The same difficulties are noted in The divine Qurʾān with Arabic text, translation into English and English commentary by S.M. Abdul Hamid published in Dacca in 1962. The English translation is typewritten and comments are typed footnotes. In his introduction Abdul Hamid laments the poor quality of the paper and printing: “Some of my friends desired better printing and paper. But those who are aware of the difficulties of publishing will admit that in Pakistan [sic] we are to depend on the paper supplied by the local mills, and printing cannot be controlled unless one has got his own press.” Like Khadim Rahmani, Abdul Hamid calls on his readers to alert him to printing mistakes. Even the prestigious edition with English translation of Abdullah Yusuf Ali published serially in Lahore beginning in 1937 bears the translator’s request for corrections. (Michael W. Albin, “Printing of the Qur’an.” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe [Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005], CD-ROM version)
The Cairo Edition of the Quran
The circumstances leading to the Cairo edition of the Arabic Quran, probably the most popular printed Arabic Quran in the world today, were errors in printed Quranic texts:
the Egyptian government was motivated to begin the project that would lead to the Cairo Qur’an edition due to the variations (or “errors,” as an appendix to the Cairo edition describes them) found in the Qur’anic texts that they had been importing for state schools. In response, the government destroyed a large number of such texts by sinking them in the Nile River and issued its own text. The Cairo project thus followed in the spirit of the caliph ‘Uthman, and the governor al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf (d. 95/714), who are reported to have destroyed competing versions and distributed their own text of the Qur’an in the first Islamic century (Gabriel Said Reynolds, “Introduction,” in The Qurʾān in its Historical Context, ed. Gabriel S. Reynolds [London, Routledge, 2008], p.3).
The Sana Quran
The Sana Quran is significant because it differs from the standard Quran disseminated by Uthman.2Literary sources also indicate different text traditions from the Companions of Muhammad: Ibn Masud and Ubay ibn Ka’b; however, these rescensions are only known from descriptions in literary sources (Behnam Sadeghi; Uwe Bergmann, “The Codex of a Companion of the Prophet and the Qur’ān of the Prophet,” Arabica, Volume 57, Number 4, 2010, 344). The variants of the Sana Quran have not yet all been published but here is a list of several: 3Sadeghi, Behnam; Mohsen Goudarzi, “Ṣan’ā’ 1 and the Origins of the Qur’ān,” Der Islam (March 2012), 21. The authors of this same article say they plan a future article with a “systematic textual analysis of all the variants” (p.8).
Examples of Major Variants in the Sana Quran palimpsest (a.k.a. C-1 or the lower writing of Saṇʿāʾ 1)
(Behnam and Goudarzi, 21)
Talking point with Muslims
Many Muslims believe the Quran, as recited by Muhammad, has been perfectly preserved in perfect manuscripts. This is proof the Quran came from heaven (Quran 15:9; 85:21-22). However, the above examples demonstrate that human error is part of the textual history of the Quran.
The textual tradition of the Quran is important because it should give Muslims pause before dismissing the Bible because it also has a textual history.
- Does your Muslim friend know that there are textual variants in Arabic Quran manuscripts? The point of this question is that the existence of textual variants in the biblical tradition does not automatically disqualify the Bible from being the Word of God. Invite your Muslim friend to read the Gospels.
- Did you know that the Qur’anic Injīl is a non-existent book? Did you know this non-existent book is the main reason Muslims believe the New Testament is corrupted?
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|↥1||Michael W. Albin, “Printing of the Qur’an.” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005), CD-ROM version.|
|↥2||Literary sources also indicate different text traditions from the Companions of Muhammad: Ibn Masud and Ubay ibn Ka’b; however, these rescensions are only known from descriptions in literary sources (Behnam Sadeghi; Uwe Bergmann, “The Codex of a Companion of the Prophet and the Qur’ān of the Prophet,” Arabica, Volume 57, Number 4, 2010, 344).|
|↥3||Sadeghi, Behnam; Mohsen Goudarzi, “Ṣan’ā’ 1 and the Origins of the Qur’ān,” Der Islam (March 2012), 21. The authors of this same article say they plan a future article with a “systematic textual analysis of all the variants” (p.8).|