(Draft Article) Arrangement of the Qur’an and Twelver Shiaism

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By MuslimAnswers.net Team

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

In the context of the discussions the Ahl us Sunnah have with the Twelver Shias, one of the matters that receives less attention that it probably should is with respect to the internal arrangement of the Qur’anic Ayahs within the Surahs of the Qur’an, and how the Twelver Shia position leads to a totally contradictory situation in their religion, and how it logically undermines their religion from within[1].

For the People of the Approved Way (Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah), our belief is that the internal arrangement of the verses within any Surah of the Quran is set by the order of Prophet Muhammad to his companions. The details of this can be checked with any scholar who has attained Ijazah in the sciences of the Quran. What needs to be said about our belief is that it provides a solid base for the Usool (foundations) of our religion, since we say that the text of the Quran, and its internal arrangement have been divinely decreed, and from this starting point then all matters of our religion relating to Aqeedah (belief) and Fiqh (jurisprudence), authenticity of the Ahadeeth, and other matters, have a solid basis to start off.

However, there are Shias who state the opposite, claiming that the internal arrangement of the Verses that we see in the text of the Qur’an today is not the one intended by Allah and His Prophet . For example, the leading Shia scholar-polemicist Ali Milani says[2]:


  ـ هل أعاد عثمان ترتيب بعض الآيات حسب ما تقتضيه السياسة في الوقت ، فمثلاً هل له دور في وضع آية التطهير وسط آيات خاصة بنساء النبي في سورة الأحزاب ؟

ـ نعم ، نحن نعتقد أن مكان آية التطهير وكذا الآية : ( اليوم اكملت لكم دينكم ) ونحوهما هو من فعل هؤلاء القوم ، ففي آية التطهير ـ مثلاً ـ حديث صحيح مسلم وغيره صريحٌ في أنها نزلت في قضيةٍ خاصّةٍ معيّنة ولا علاقة لها بنساء النبي والآيات الواردة فيهنّ  .

Question: Do we believe that Uthman placed certain Verses of the Qur’an as per the political situation at the time dictated, for example did he play a part in putting the Verse of Purification in the midst of Verses specific to the Wives of the Prophet in Surah al-Ahzab?

Answer: Yes, we believe that the placement of the Verse of Purification, as well as the Verse (Today I have completed your religion), and others like them was the doing of those people, for in the Verse of Purification – for example- there are clear narrations in Sahih Muslim and other places stating that it was revealed for a certain specific issue and it has no connection to the Wives of the Prophet and the Verses found about them.

This same view is expressed by the renowned Twelver Shia scholar, Mullah Baqir Majlisi in Bihar al-Anwar where he mentions[3]:

فلعل آية التطهير أيضا وضعوها في موضع زعموا أنها تناسبه، أو أدخلوها في سياق مخاطبة الزوجات لبعض مصالحهم الدنيوية، وقد ظهر من الاخبار عدم ارتباطها بقصتهن، فالاعتماد في هذا الباب على النظم والترتيب ظاهر البطلان.

ولو سلم عدم التغيير في الترتيب فنقول: سيأتي أخبار مستفيضة بأنه سقط من القرآن آيات كثيره ، فلعله سقط مما قبل الآية وما بعدها آيات لو ثبتت لم يفت الربط الظاهري بينها

“And likewise, the Verse of Tatheer was probably placed in a meaning which they thought was relevant to it, or they inserted it in between the verses talking about the wives for some of their worldly gains, and it is clear from the narrations its lack of relevance with their story, so we are certain in this regard that the organization and the obvious arrangement (we see) is totally wrong, and even if the change in the arrangement did not occur we say: We will bring numerous narrations showing that many of the Verses of the Quran were removed, so it could be that what was before and after this Ayah was removed, and if it was still there (these Ayahs were still there) the obvious link between them would not have been broken”

Keeping the above answers in mind, we would like to ask the Twelver Shias a series of questions about how it occurs to their minds that their Usool and the manner in which their religion is formulated can be said to be consistent in any way whatsoever:

1. It is claimed that phrases in the Quran have been misplaced and thus, the meaning of the Quran is lost. Examples are brought from Ayah 5:3 and Ayah 33:33, but in effect it is being said that all phrases in the Quran may have been displaced either through error, negligence, or malice. Since they claim that the text of the Quran is probabilistic and not certain, then how can they claim certainty about anything in their religion? How can they claim that Muhammad is really a Prophet of Allah? According to their theory of displacement, it may be that the word “Muhammad” was jumbled up with the phrase “Rasool Allah” and mistakenly placed together in Ayah 48:29. Or perhaps the phrase “Qul Huwa Allahu Ahad” was the erroneous combination of these four words, while in reality they were supposed to be separate and not connected, according to the logical consequence of their theory.

While the Twelver Shias may deny that this is the case for the two examples shown above, there is no way they can prove that such corruption did not take place. The reason for this is that they are stating the possibility of internal corruption in words and phrases of the Quran in general, and stating it as definite in certain cases such as the phrases that occur in Ayah 5:3 or Ayah 33:33. (Actually, the issue with respect to the phrases in Verses 5:3 and 33:33 is brought up because in their minds, such phrases have a towering importance in the formulation of their religion- but this “towering importance” is not as obvious from the reading of the Verses in the Qur’an that we have in our hands today.)

[As an aside, there is yet another issue at play in here, in that the Twelver Shias, like the Orientalists, have presupposed that the Qur’an is only a written text. While it is true that the Qur’an has been written on pages, in reality the written pages are the ‘putting down on paper’ of the oral recitation as it has been mass transmitted from the time of the Prophet to our present time. If we consider the collection prepared by Uthman (Radhia Allahu Anhu), one would see that it was only a ‘skeleton collection’. Such a collection needed a Qari (authorized reciter) in order to teach the recitation to anyone who wished to learn the recitation of the Qur’an- there was no way to recite the Qur’an only by looking directly at the collection prepared under the instructions of Uthman (Radhia Allahu Anhu). In fact the written collection was prepared in a skeletal form in order to preclude the chance of anyone reciting it directly by looking at the written collection, and forcing him to seek a recitation teacher if he wished to learn how to read the Qur’an – thereby emphasizing the role of oral transmission in Islam.

Even today, no recitation of the Qur’an is ever accepted as authentic if it is not in accordance with one of the orally mass-transmitted recitations, in addition with being in agreement with the initial collection.

What we see today of the copies of the Qur’an printed (for example) by the King Fahd Complex should not fool the common person into thinking that one can master the recitation only by reading this copy- he will not be considered a master until he has gained recognition of his proficiency in recitation by a formal teacher. Even this ‘King Fahd’ copy is a ‘putting down on paper’ of only one of the mass-transmitted recitations, and additional aids have been included within such copies in order to help the common person to satisfy the minimal requirements while reciting the Qur’an. It should also be noted that even with the emergence of written explanations of how the text is to be read and color-coding to help the layman while he is reading such copies of the Qur’an, most people will still make mistakes during recitation, showing again the primacy of oral transmission and the teacher-student relationship in Islam.

Of course, when it comes to the Twelver Shias, the main problem with all of this is that they believe the vast majority of the Companions to have been evil hypocrites, and that following them, the vast majority of the Muslim population were also ignorant and/or evil. So any scholars that come from these people are rejected outright by them, and any knowledge that is transmitted by them, either orally or literally, is also rejected.

This would obviously point to the total loss and doubt regarding every single item of Islamic knowledge, to the point that we would not even be sure that Muhammad was really born in Makkah and passed away in Madinah. In order to avoid this totally comical scenario, the Twelvers then have to select some type of sources in order to give a certain semblance of congruity to their religion. But, as this article points out, even with such selections they cannot overturn the fact that their epistemology cannot withstand objective cross-examination].  

2. Since the internal text of the Quran and its meaning is probabilistic with such Twelver Shias, then how can they ever know if a certain narration from the Prophet or the “Infallible Imams” is really true or not, since it is impossible to reach certainty when one checks one thing of uncertain authenticity in meaning with another thing whose internal text (let alone its meaning) is also uncertain?

3. Since now the meaning of the Quran is uncertain and there is no way to verify the textual credibility of any narration, then how can any point of Aqeedah or Fiqh ever be formulated and attributed as being correct in Twelver Shiaism, when the basis of their primary texts are intrinsically uncertain and sporadic?

Now, we will not say like many others that “Twelver Shias believe the Quran is corrupt”, since this is an oversimplification of the matter, and it is best for us to be more specific in our assertions. However, what can be noticed is that in the Twelver Shia religion (1) it is not necessary to believe (as an essential part of their religion) that the Quran the people read today is the true Quran revealed to the Prophet [4] (2) Their acceptance of the view that it is possible that the arrangement of the text of the Quran was bungled by those who compiled it and that Verses and phrases were put in the wrong order.

If any unbiased person thinks about these two things above he will quickly realize that the Twelver Shia religion has absolutely no basis to stand on. The reason for this is that once the religion declares that the textual authenticity of the primary sources is in doubt (this is whether the authenticity is general or specific, such as the arrangement of the phrases and verses of the Quran), anything that is supposed to be derived from these primary sources is definitely in doubt, and the religion can never say that anything is definitely true or definitely false. Thus, they cannot guarantee that what they say is legal is really legal, or what is forbidden is really forbidden. They cannot claim certainty regarding the stories of the previous Prophets, nor of the Day of Judgment, nor of the existence of angels. As mentioned previously, they cannot even say that Muhammad is indeed the Messenger of Allah with any certainty… Why? Because if it is possible that the placement of the words in the Quran has been changed as a general premise, then how is it known if the Qur’anic phrase “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” is indeed a correct phrase, or whether the instances where the constitutive words of this phrase occur have been misplaced either by neglect or by malice?

Another matter which is of importance is the issue of how do the sayings of their scholars affect the basic validity of their religion. Forgetting for a moment that the Ahl us Sunnah claim disbelief upon the person who says that the internal order of the Qur’anic Verses is doubtful, any objective person will realize that when someone says that phrases and words may have been moved from their correct places due to political reasons or by mistake, he is saying that the entire message trying to be conveyed is doubtful.

If one makes an analogy to a normal book, one would know that if phrases, sentences, and paragraphs are misplaced within the text of this book, then the entire message of the book will be lost, since one would end up with words brought together without any cohesive meaning being intended by them. All sensible minds will readily accept this, and there is no reason to get into an in-depth “proof” for this proposition.

When the above is applied to what is meant to be the prime source from which all beliefs and jurisprudence is derived, we get a catastrophic conclusion: It is obvious that there is no way anything can ever be known with certainty, and the religion becomes only a vague ideology which gets its proofs from here and there without being able to lay claim on the certainty of its primary sources. Thus, the position forwarded by the Twelver Shias is to be discarded immediately, and its proponents are to be reminded that what they are calling to is not a divinely inspired religion, but a weak concoction of their own minds which has no sound basis.  

There are those from among the Twelver Shias who say this shows that the order of the arrangement of the Qur’an was meant to be as per the order of revelation and that this is what Imam Ali (Radhia Allahu Anhu) completed and what the “Infallible Imams” have with them. However, such Twelver Shias stress that there is no problem in reciting the Qur’an as we find it today, since the “Infallible Imams” and the modern-day scholars urge the Twelvers to read the Qur’an we find among the people.

To this we answer that this is a restatement of the previous positions presented. Our readers have to remember that here we are definitely not stressing about making pronouncements of disbelief of any person who holds this belief (since this would merely be a statement of our position without probing into the weakness of the Twelver position in and of itself). Neither are we claiming that the Twelver Shias do not read the Qur’an, or that they are reading a separate text of the Qur’an. We are simply showing how the Twelver Shia religion is inconsistent from within itself, based on its own internal rules and principles.

If according to the Twelver Shias, the arrangement of the Qur’an was properly done by the “Infallible Imams” according to the order of revelation rather than what we have in our hands -which is something other than this- then :

1.     The meaning of the entire Qur’an is lost and the text of the Qur’an is for all we know a hopeless jumble of unrelated phrases patched together, and the entire religion is lost for good with no way to know the right from wrong, nor the certain from the doubtful. Bringing in the “Infallible Imams” into the picture certainly does nothing to remove this problem, since the text of the Qur’an in its proper internal arrangement is only with them, and the lay masses of Twelver Shias do not have any access to this text.


2.     Since there is no other means for them from which to discern the right from the wrong narrations -for example, their current Infallible Imam does not live openly amongst them, nor does he inspire their scholars as to what are the right or wrong narrations- then the problems mentioned in point (1) are only accentuated, and the only method left for them to arrive at anything either in Aqeedah or in Fiqh is through guesswork and probability.

When faced with such an issue, there are other Twelver Shias who reply by saying that such a view is either not their view, is not the certain view, or is a view only held by a minority of Twelver Shia scholars.

To this objection, we say that such a view, which puts doubt upon the internal arrangement of the Qur’anic Verses within the Surahs of the Qur’an, is part and parcel of the scholastic Shia discussion. This is why such a view was pronounced openly by the likes of Majlisi, Milani, and others we have not mentioned, without them having to make any apologies or excuses for their positions. And once it is known that such views form part of the scholarly genre within Twelver Shia circles, we then know that everything that derives from such a mindset is necessarily corrupted and can never be linked to the pristine Islamic religion.

So in conclusion, the presentation of the matter from the side of the Twelver Shias shows that their position is totally untenable and logically incoherent, and that such positions were taken without completely thinking out how such views would affect the internal consistency of their religion. The only solution is for the Twelver Shias to totally distance and disassociate themselves from these beliefs and those who called for and were tolerant of such views. The other option is to remain trapped within the confines of one of the incorrect religious systems prevalent around the world, systems which we pray for all of humanity to be freed from by the Mercy of Allah the Exalted.


[1] It is our opinion that it is always best to show the fundamental wrongs in our opponent’s way through the ‘lowest-common denominator’. What it leads to in this case is that instead of accusing the Twelver Shias of believing in outright ‘Tahrif’ (alteration) in the Qur’an – something which they will deny vociferously- we take the approach based on a position that they will accept more readily, since it is touted even today by some of their scholars; based on this, we see how their religion would be affected from within.

[2] http://www.alquran-network.net/masael1.htm, accessed on the 3rd November 2012.

[4] For more details, one may refer to the article: (Draft Article) Fatal flaw in the basis of Twelver Shiaism


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