Abu ‘Ubaid on the Verses Missing from the Koran

Arthur Jeffery

THAT OUR PRESENT TEXT OF the Koran represents an honest effort to assemble all that was still extant of genuine proclamations of Muhammad during the years of his prophetic activity need not be questioned. It is possible but not very probable that a few passages have crept in which are not genuine proclamations of the Prophet. That a great many quite genuine proclamations, however, could no longer be found, and are thus not included in the volume, is certain.

Occasionally in Arabic works one comes across references to some of these missing verses, and in Nöldeke-Schwally, Geschichte des Qorâns, I, 234—59 these references are gathered together and commented upon. In the sources from which Schwally drew his list one finds very frequent reference to the authority of Abu ‘Ubaid, and in Munich this summer, through the kindness of Prof. Otto Pretzl, I was able to consult the photographs of the Berlin manuscript of Abu ‘Ubaid’s Kitab Fada’il-al-Qur’an, folios 43 and 44 of which contain a chapter on the verses which have fallen out of the Koran.

Abu ‘Ubaid al-Qasim b. Sallam (154—244 A.H), who studied under the famous masters of both the Kufan and the Basran schools, was the son of a Greek slave, and though born on the outskirts of the Muslim empire, became a famous teacher at Baghdad, renowned equally as a philologist, a jurist, and an authority on the Koranic sciences.1 By reason of his early date and the reputation he had in the eyes of later writers, his chapter on the missing verses of the Koran merits translation here.2

Originally published in The Muslim World 28 (1938): 61-65. Reprinted with permission.

Said Abu ‘Ubaid:

Isma‘il b. Ibrahim related to us from Ayyub from Nafi‘ from Ibn ‘Umar who said—Let none of you say, “I have learned the whole of the Koran,” for how does he know what the whole of it is, when much of it has disappeared? Let him rather say, “I have learned what is extant thereof.”

Ibn Abi Maryam related to us from Ibn Luhai‘a from Abu’l-Aswad from ‘Urwa b. az-Zubair from ‘A’isha who said, “Surat al-Ahzab (xxxiii) used to be recited in the time of the Prophet with two hundred verses, but when ‘Uthman wrote out the codices he was unable to procure more of it than there is in it today.”

Isma‘il b. Ibrahim and Isma’i b. Ja‘far related to us from al-Mubarak b. Fadala from ‘Asim b. Abi’n-Nujud from Zirr b. Hubaish who said—Ubai b. Ka’b said to me, “O Zirr, how many verses did you count (or how many verses did you read) in Surat al-Ahzab?” “Seventy-two or seventy-three,” I answered. Said he, “Yet it used to be equal to Surat al-Baqara (ii), and we used to read in it the Verse of Stoning.” Said I, “And what is the Verse of Stoning?” He said, “If a grown man and woman commit adultery, stone them without hesitation, as a warning from Allah, for Allah is mighty, wise.

‘Abdallah b. Salih related to us from al-Laith from Khalid b. Yazid from Sa‘id b. Abi Hilal from Marwan from Abu Umama ‘Uthman b. Sahl that Khaliya said—The Apostle used to recite to us the Verse of Stoning, “If a grown man and woman commit adultery, stone them unhesitatingly as a reward for their (illicit) enjoyment.”

Hashim related to us—I heard az-Zuhri say, ‘Ubaidallah b. ‘Abdallah b. ‘Utba related to us from Ibn ‘Abbas who said—‘Umar was preaching and said, “Some people say ‘What is this about the stoning? there is nothing in Allah’s book except a scourging’, whereas the Apostle stoned and we stoned with him. By Allah, were it not that people might say that ‘Umar had added something to Allah’s book, I would have written it in just as it was revealed.”

Hashim related to us saying—‘Ali b. Zaid b. Hidh‘an informed us from Yusuf b. Mihran from Ibn ‘Abbas from ‘Umar who said—“I indeed wanted to write on the margin of the codex, ‘Umar b. al-Khattab and ‘Abd ar-Rahman b. ‘Auf bear witness that the Apostle of Allah stoned and we also stoned.’”

‘Abd al-Ghaffar b. Dawud related to us from Abu Luhai‘a from ‘Alī b. Dinar from Khalid that ‘Umar b. al-Khattab passed by a man who was reading aloud from a codex, “The Prophet is nearer akin to the believers than they are themselves, his wives are their mothers and he is their father” (xxxlii:6). Said ‘Umar, “Separate not from me till we find Ubai b. Ka’b.” When they came to Ubai b. Ka‘b he said, “O Ubai, may we not hear how you recite this verse?” Said Ubai, “It was among the things that dropped out.” Said ‘Umar, “And why were you away from it then?” Said he, “There kept me away from it what did not keep you.”

‘Abdallah b. Salih related to us from al-Laith from Hashim b. Sa’d from Zaid b. Aslam from ‘Ata’ b. Yasar from Abu Waqid al-Laithi who said, “When the Apostle of Allah had a revelation we would come to him and he would repeat to us what had been revealed to him. One day I came to him and he said, ‘Allah, blessed and exalted be He, says, ”We have sent down wealth for the performance of prayer and the giving of alms, but if the son of Adam had a valley (full of wealth) he would want a second, and if he had a second he would want to add a third to them. Nothing indeed will really fill man’s belly save the dust, and Allah turns to whom He wills.” ’ ”

Hajjaj related to us from Hamid b. Salama from ‘Ali b. Zaid b. Jid‘ an from Abu Harb b. Abi’l-Aswad from Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari, who said—There was revealed a sura about the size of al-Bara’a (ix), which was later withdrawn, of which I remember (the words) “Allah will help along this religion by means of a people for whom is no portion. Had the son of Adam two valleys full of gold he would yearn for a third. Nothing will really fill man’s belly but the dust, and Allah turns to whom He will.”

Abu Nu’aim related to me from Yusuf b. Shu‘aib from Habib b. Yasar from Zaid b. Arqam who said—We used to recite in the time of the Prophet, “Had the son of Adam two valleys of gold he would desire a third. Nothing will really fill man’s belly but the dust, and Allah turns to whom He wills.”

Hajjaj related to us from Ibn Juraij who said—Abu’z—Zubair informed me that he heard Jabir b. ‘Abdallah say—We used to recite, “Had the son of Adam a valley full of treasure he would want another like it. Nothing will really fill man’s belly save the dust, and Allah turns to whom He wills.”

Hajjaj related to us from Ibn Juraij who said—‘Ata’ informed me saying,—I heard Ibn ‘Abbas say—“I heard the Apostle of Allah say the like of this, but I do not know whether it is Koran or not.”

Hajjaj related to us from Ibn Juraij who said—Ibn Abi Humaid informed me from Jahra bint Abi Ayyub b. Yunus saying—I read to my father when he was eighty years of age from ‘A’isha’s codex—“Verily Allah and His angels pray for the Prophet. O ye who believe, pray for him and speak peace upon him and upon those who pray in the first ranks” (xxxiii:56). She said, “It is said that ‘Uthman altered the codices.” Said he, “Ibn Juraij and Ibn Abi Jamil have related to me from ‘Abd ar-Rahman b. Hurmuz and others the like of this about ‘A’isha’s codex.”

Hajjaj related to us from Shu‘ba from al-Hakam b. ‘Ubaid from ‘Adi b. ‘Adi who said—We used to read, “Turn not away from your fathers for that is godlessness on your part.” Then he said to Zaid b. Thabit,—“Is that so, Zaid b. Thabit?”, and he answered, “Yes.”

Ibn Abi Fahm related to us from Nafi’ b. ‘Umar al-Jumahi, who said,—Ibn Abi Mulaika related to me from Musawwar b. Makhrama who said,—‘Umar said to ‘Abd ar-Rahman b. ‘Auf,—“Did you not find in what was revealed, ‘Strive as ye strove the first time,’ for we cannot find it.” He answered, “It dropped out among what dropped from the Koran.”

Said Abu ‘Ubaid,—These huruf that we have mentioned in these passages are among the extras, which the savants did not hand down, saying that they are similar to what is between the covers (of the Koran), because they used to recite them during prayers. Thus they did not consider as an unbeliever anyone who rejected them, even though they were recited in prayer, for they only passed judgment of unbelief against any one who rejected what was between the covers, for that is what was in the Imam which ‘Uthman caused to be written out with the approval of the Muhajirs and the Ansar.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!