These are some of my notes of a talk that Dr. Sami Ameri gave on YouTube on the manuscripts of Sanaa, that orientalists bring up to claim that the Qur’an is altered. Full lecture can be viewed here:
The Sanaa manuscripts are from the most early period of the Islam. It is a palimpsest which means the lower text was erased and a new text was written upon. Through uv light, the lower, erased text becomes visible again. This manuscript has been studied by a number of orientalists. Dr. Ameri has had contact with almost all researches who studied the manuscript except Asma Hilali.
In short, the manuscripts are not in any way a proof for the tahrif of the Qur’an.There are many qiraa’aat that are contradictory to what is present today in our mushaf. The difference is not only regarding the harakat but also different wordings. For example another word was used, or a word was added or left out.If we accept that this is a Qur’anic manuscript, is this a proof of the Qur’an being changed?
Dr. Ameri say no, and even if we accept it as a true Qur’anic manuscript, it is a proof for us and not against us.
But what should be clarified first: is this a Qur’anic manuscript or not?There are a number of those who have studied the manuscripts and state that this was a notebook for learning purposes (كراسة للتعليم) used by students who memorized the Qur’an.
This opinion was mentioned by the researcher Asma Hilali when she studied the manuscripts, wrote a French paper on it and published a book afterwards. So according this opinion, the manuscripts should not be viewed as a formal Qur’anic manuscript. There are other reasons to opt for this argument, like the fact that the letters are written in disorganized manner. Also, the amount of mistakes are enormous as has been mentioned in the notes of Sadeghi who studied the manuscript.
Often, letters are erased after they have been written. His paper is available online. An example of the many mistakes observed by Sadeghi is that which he has written about Sura Maryam 19:7.
He says:”There is enough room between sīn and mīm for one letter. Moreover, there are traces before the initial sīn that match a tooth. Either the word is not samiyyan, or the scribe had initially written another word (such as shabīhan) before replacing it with samiyyan.” (p. 63)
Another example is 24:31 where the word tifl was written after writing wildan first. Sadeghi states:”Maybe the scribe wanted to write al-ṭifl, but conflated it with al-wildān, writing an extra الو .The gap between the first lām and ṭā’ may also be explained by this scenario: the scribe first wrote a dāl (belonging to al-wildān) after this lām but then erased it and wrote ṭā’ slightly after this dāl.”. (p.92)
Another example is 9:18 where لام is written instead of لم and this is a clear mistake that Asma Hilali mentions as there is no such wording. Instead, it should have been لم. Another example that Sadeghi mentioned is 9:19 where the author confused the wording with the next part which mentions جهدوا instead of جاهد and relied upon his memory mistakenly.
See footnote 165:”The letters wāw and alif are written in the small space available after dāl, suggesting that the scribe had not written them initially. This emendation is wrong, however, as the plural jāhadū does not agree with the singular pronoun man preceding it. Perhaps the scribe conflated this word with the next verse’s jāhadū, which should be in plural.” (p. 56)
One can read the paper and conclude that Sadeghi analyzes a lot mistakes. Another one he found was his statement on verse 24:31:The use of the masculine pronoun here is a scribal error. (P. 92)
How serious can this manuscript be taken if the scribe did not even differentiate between هم and هن? The last argument of Dr. Ameri is the beginning of chapter 9 which mentions “do not say bismillah” (لا تقل). He pays attention to this point a lot and analyzes the wording and the objections against this reading and who states it should be anfal. He discusses munasser mussayeh, another doctor who delved into this issue and discusses his unfamiliarity on the subject and his mistakes regarding the 7 recitors.
Whatever the case is, if we consider this part as a notebook of a student and not as a Quran, the doubt is removed. Now, coming to the second claim: what if this was really a Qur’anic manuscript and not a notebook for learning purposes? He first recommends the article written by Yasin Dutton “Orality, literacy and the seven ahruf hadith” and states that masahif of the Companions, like that of ibn mas’ud and ubay bin ka’b do differ in wording and not only in haraka.
So the fact this is mentioned in the books of Islamic history and the fact we found a manuscript indicating a different reading is a proof for our tradition. Since we have people who claimed there is no proof of the 7 ahruf, this manuscript is an argument against those claimants who state our tradition of several readings and a different order of chapters have no basis. Rather, our tradition is well preserved.
The order of the chapters differed and this was a matter of ijtihad of the Companions so there is no harm if the arrangement of the sura’s were different than the prevalent mushaf. He quotes Al-Qadi Iyad on this issue. The fact remains that Muslims were more attentive to the uthmanic reading and did not pay much heed to the odd readings. It does not harm us if we come across a reading not mentioned by the scholars. Simply because that particular reading was lost and the Muslims did not bother collecting and recording all readings of the Qur’an.
If a muslims reads one reading, this is sufficient and the uthmanic reading was the most prevalent one so they paid the most attention to the mushaf of Uthman and the recording of odd readings was weak because it was not deemed necessary. Now if you to take the view that this as Qur’anic manuscript which was written before the mushaf of uthman, it is no proof that the Qur’an we have today is altered. If it is deemed as a notebook for students, or a Qur’anic manuscript with notes from the scribe, the matter is even more clear and it is absolutely no proof for the so-called alteration of our Qur’an.
It doesn’t effect the reliability of the text of the Qur’an. Whatever the case is, whatever opinion about the manuscripts you choose, it does not harm the belief that the Qur’an we have today in front of us, has remained unaltered for 1400 years, which is even attested by several orientalists.