و كلمة الله هي العليا
And the word of Allah is the highest1
This post is the fourth in a series of summaries of Ayatollah Haadi Ma’rifat’s book entitled, Amouzish Ulum Qurāni (Learning the Qurānic Sciences). For an introduction to Ayatollah Haadi Ma’rifat and his works, click here. To read the previous post which introduced the Myth of the Cranes, click here.
When attempting to analyse the narrations concerning the corruption of revelation that Tabari has narrated, what must first be understood is the context in which such narrations were introduced. Upon reading the narrations, one would presume that they were presented in relation to the revelation of Surah al-Najm. However, on the contrary, Tabari has mentioned them in his exegesis for the 52nd verse of Surah al-Hajj which is as follows,
وَ مَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ مِن رَّسُولٍ وَ لَا نَبِىٍّ إِلَّا إِذَا تَمَنَّى أَلْقَى الشَّيْطَنُ فىِ أُمْنِيَّتِهِ فَيَنْسَخُ اللَّهُ مَا يُلْقِى الشَّيْطَنُ ثُمَّ يُحْكِمُ اللَّهُ ءَايَتِهِ وَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيم
We did not send before you any apostle or prophet but that when he recited [the scripture] Satan interjected [something] in his recitation. Thereat Allah nullifies whatever Satan has interjected, [and] then Allah confirms His signs, and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise. 2
It should be noted that this verse is an instance where one’s theological views or exegetical understanding of the verse directly affects the translation of the verse. Tabari by presenting the aforementioned narrations as exegesis for the verse implies that Satan corrupted what the Prophet was reciting. As such, it should be noted that even if the narrations do not hold to be true, an explanation must be provided for what the verse means.
There are multiple methodologies that can be used when attempting to analyse and/or criticize the narrations presented by Tabari, three particular methods will be briefly covered here. The first is a theological approach, the second is an analysis of the chains of narration and the last is an analysis of the content of the different narrations.
Perhaps the simplest method to adopt when critiquing the narrations presented by Tabari is a theological approach. If one has already established a belief in the infallibility (‘ismat) of the Prophet, then the myth cannot be accepted. Of course, there is a lot of discussion concerning the precise framework/definition of infallibility, however, even a basic belief in infallibility would incorporate the belief in the infallibility of the Prophet when receiving and conveying revelation. Additionally, there are numerous verses and narrations that assert this fact. In fact, a verse in Sura al-Najm before the supposed corruption caused by Satan asserts the same belief, that is,
وَ مَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الهَوَى إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْىٌ يُوحَى
Nor does he speak out of [his own] desire: it is just a revelation that is revealed [to him]3
That is, the Prophet, at least when he conveys revelation, conveys only the revelation and nothing else. In addition to this verse, there are many narrations and other verses that signify the same fact.
One methodology that many scholars have adopted when analysing the narrations presented by Tabari is to research the chains of narration through which these narrations reached Tabari. As previously mentioned, the Myth of the Cranes was narrated multiple times by different narrators. The famous Albanian scholar, Mohammad Nasir al-Deen, has extensively analysed and critiqued the chains of narrations through which this myth has been narrated. His research found 10 different chains of narration for the myth which were all mursal, that is, there was a missing or unknown narrator within each chain. As such, it is possible that such narrations were fabricated by others which is, in fact, the conclusion that most scholars have reached in relation to these narrations4. What follows is an example of a weak chain of narration.
One chain which Suyuti mentions that Tabrani, Bazzar and Ibn Mardaway have all used is that which is narrated from Sa’eed ibn Jubair from Ibn Abbas5. When analysing the chain it is interesting to note that Ibn Abbas was born three years before the Prophet migrated to Medina6. According to numerous scholars such as Sheikh Tusi and Zamakhshari, most of surah al-Najm (apart from verse 32 and possibly 61) was revealed in Mecca7. However, Ibn Abbas would have only been a maximum of 3 years old if it was revealed after he was born. Even then, it is more than likely that it was revealed before his birth seeing as it was the 23rd of 83 Meccan chapters to be revealed8. If it was revealed during Ibn Abbas’s time in Mecca and he was present as a child to witness it, then he would have been too young to understand the event so as to narrate it as such, and if it was the latter, then he did not even witness the event. In either case, it seems that someone else related the event to Ibn Abbas or, perhaps even more likely, this narration was falsely attributed to Ibn Abbas.
This is just one example of an obvious fault in the chain of narrators presented for the Myth. As such, Sheikh Nasir al-Deen al-Albāni has critiqued each of the 10 unique chains that are present for the Myth and has found all of them to have some sort of problem associated with them9.
It should be noted that it is not very surprising that this narration is not very authentic from the perspective of its chain of narrators. In fact, it is commonly known that narrations which attempt to explain the context of the revelation of verses are often weak. This is something that many scholars such as Ahmad bin Hanbal, Suyuti and Zarkashi have attested to10.
One final method to analyse the authenticity of the Myth is to look for obvious faults or glaring questions within the actual text of the narration.
The first point that comes to mind is that it is far-fetched that the Prophet would not realize he was saying something incorrect when he was reciting the chapter. In fact, the narration recounted in the previous post implies that the Prophet did not realize he had made such a mistake until Gabriel notified him of it. Firstly, it is far-fetched that the Prophet did not immediately realize his mistake, seeing as he had been preaching against such idols at least since the beginning of his prophet-hood and secondly it is even more far-fetched that he seemed to forget about what he had recited until Gabriel reminded him of it.
A second point that comes to mind is in relation to the Muslims of Mecca during that time. Some of the narrations of the Myth claim that the Muslims of Mecca also knelt down in prostration once the Prophet finished reciting the chapter of al-Najm. Once again, it is very far-fetched that such Muslims, who had always seen Islam as opposed to giving any sort of respect to idols, to easily accept such words without any doubts or questions.
It is also interesting to note the claim that the Prophet did not want any revelation to be revealed upon him because he did not want the people to flee from him. It is odd and far-fetched that the Prophet would prefer the company of the polytheists of Mecca as opposed to his Lord. This is particularly true when one takes into account the fact that the Prophet would regularly preach against polytheism.
Overall, the theological approach offers a methodology through which there is absolutely no means of accepting the narrations presented by Tabari whereas the chain and content based analyses both offer multiple signs of weakness and doubt that when compiled together culminate in the unacceptability of the narrations. However, as previously mentioned, the narrations attempt to explain the verse and so in this case the verse in question still warrants an explanation and accurate translation.
In this regard it would be pertinent to note that some of the words used in the verse can have multiple meanings according to their usage. The two words, تَمَنَّى and أَمْنِيَّة both come from the same root letters, م ن ي, and have multiple meanings. One meaning of أَمْنِيَّة can be the perception one develops of something after having perceived it11. Thus, Ayatollah Koorani, in his published notes on Rāghib Isfahani’s Mufridāt, offers the explanation that Satan can corrupt the Prophet’s perception of revelation once he receives it upon which Allah abrogates such corruption 12. This is in accordance with Rāghib Isfahani’s definition of أَمْنِيَّة although for this specific verse Rāghib proposes that the word means, “recitation” which is from amongst the other meanings of أَمْنِيَّة. In such a case, many scholars have offered a very satisfying explanation of the verse. That is, the meanings of particles in Arabic can differ according to the context within which they are used. As such, one of the meanings of the particle في is that of a temporal preposition13 which would be translated into English as “during”14. Now upon accepting that Satan cannot/did not interject something into the recitation of the Prophet, it is plausible and not far-fetched that he would cause such corruption within the hearts of the people listening to the recitation of the Prophet, thus causing them to recite something incorrect as the Prophet recited. This an interpretation that Allamah Tabatabai seems to agree with 15, presuming that أَمْنِيَّة is taken to mean recitation. Allamah Tabrasi recounts and approves of a similar view and explanation from Shareef al-Murtadha 16. Thus, the verse could be translated as,
We did not send before you any apostle or prophet but that when he recited Satan interjected [corruption within the hearts of the people and caused them to change and add words to the recitation of the Prophet] during his recitation. Thereat Allah nullifies whatever Satan has interjected, [and] then Allah confirms His signs, and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise. 17
Of course, this is an exegetical discussion, thousands of volumes have been written in discussion of this verse amongst others. The above offers only a cursory glance at such extensive literature. I only pray that the above discussions have shed some light on the matter and have offered a glance at the methodology that scholars of exegesis adopt when analysing the Qurān.
- al-Toubah 9:40 ↩
- al-Hajj 22:52 ↩
- al-Najm 53:3-4 ↩
- Many scholars have arrived to the conclusion that all of these narrations are false, and some have even said that they were fabricated, Fakhr al-Rāzi has quoted many of these opinions which can be referred to in his exegesis, al-Tafseer al-Kabeer v. 23 pg. 50 ↩
- Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthoor fi Tafseer al-Ma’thoor v. 4, pg. 366 ↩
- Ibn Sa’d, al-Tabaqāt al-Kubrā, al-Tabaqat al-Khāmisa pg. 109; Baladhuri, Ansāb al-Ashrāf v. 4 pg. 39 ↩
- Tusi, al-Tibyān fi Tafseer al-Qurān v. 9 pg. 460, Zamakhshari, Tafseer al-Kashāf v. 4 pg. 415 ↩
- Allamah Ma’rifat has presented a table documenting the order of revelation of the different chapters of the Qurān, refer to his al-Tamheed v. 1 pg. 168 ↩
- Nasir al-Deen al-Albāni, Nasb al-Majaneeq li Nasf Qisat al-Gharāneeq ↩
- Ayatollah Ma’rifat recounts the opinions of many scholars concerning such narrations in his al-Tamheed, refer to v.1 pg 259 ↩
- Rāghib Isfahani, Mufridāt Rāghib Isfahani pg. 685 ↩
- Rāghib Isfahani, Mufridāt Rāghib Isfahani pg. 686 ↩
- This is in opposition to the meaning of a spatial preposition which it has been translated as in the above translation of verse 52 of Sura al-Hajj i.e. in ↩
- Ibn Hishām, Mughnee al-Labeeb fi Kutub al-A’areeb v. 1 pg. 187 ↩
- Tabatabai, al-Mizan fi Tafseer al-Qurān v. 14 pg. 391 ↩
- Tabrasi, Majma’ al Bayān v. 7 pg. 144-145 ↩
- al-Hajj 22:52 ↩