”A divine downfall, by Sujit Das”
“Respect for the faith of sincere believers cannot be allowed either to block or deflect the investigation of the historians … One must defend the rights of elementary historical methodology“.
——- Maxime Rodhinson, 1981; p. 57
Gerd R Puin’s photo of one Sana’a Qur’an parchment, showing layered revisions to the Qur’an
Muslims often say that both Old Testament and New Testament are corrupted and seriously changed. They say, for a Holy Scripture to be authoritative, it has to be preserved without any changes at all, and point to their Qur’an, which claims to have been revealed word by word and letter by letter to Muhammad by Allah. Qur’an claims, ‘no change there can be in the words of God‘ (10:64) and, ‘there is none that can alter the words (and decrees) of God‘ ().
But then how ridiculous the ‘doctrine of abrogation’ is, by which later revelations cancel previous ones, as Qur’an (2:106) confirms, ‘revelations… We abrogate or cause to be forgotten‘. Also, a Hadith (6:558) from Sahih Bukhari confirmed that Muhammad forgot many verses. Again Sunaan ibn Majah, (3: 1944) recorded that after Muhammad’s death some revelations were eaten by a goat (*). How divine words can be eaten, changed, cancelled or abolished, in spite of Allah’s specific claim in 10:64 and ?
Are not all these claims of Allah self-contradictory? But amazingly; these plain truths do not bother the Muslims at all. Probably, if we can present another “authentic” Qur’an which is different from existing standard form, Muslims will give way to logical thinking.
The devastating truth is that a large number of ancient Qur’anic manuscripts, dating from first century of Hijra were discovered in the Great Mosque of Sana’a (
Probably this is the most embarrassing event in Islamic history of 14 centuries.
The Great Mosque of Sana’a is one of the oldest Mosques in Islamic history. The date of building goes back to 6th year of Hijrah when Muhammad entrusted one of his companions to build a Mosque at
In 1972, during the restoration of this Great Mosque (heavy rain had caused the west wall of the Mosque to collapse), laborers working in a crown space between the structure’s inner and outer roofs, stumbled across a amazing grave site, which they did not realize at that time because of ignorance. Mosques do not accommodate graves, and this site contained no gravestone, no human remains and no funeral relics. It contained nothing more, in fact, apparently looking an unappealing mountain of old parchment and paper documents, damaged books and individual pages of Arabic text, fused together by rain and dampness for over a thousand year.
The ignorant laborers gathered up the manuscripts, pressed them carelessly into some 20 potato sacks, and set them aside on the staircase of one of the Mosque’s minarets, where they were locked away. The manuscripts would have been forgotten once again, were it not for Qadhi Isma’il al-Akwa, then the President of Yemeni Antiquities Authority, who realized the potential importance of the find. Al-Akwa sought international assistance in examining and preserving the fragments, because no scholar in his country was capable of working on this rich find. In 1997, he managed to interest a visiting non-Muslim German scholar, who in turn persuaded the German government to organize and find a restoration project.
Soon after the project began, it became clear that the “paper grave” is a resting place for, among other things, tens of thousands of fragments from close to a thousand different codices of the Qur’an, the Muslim holy scripture. Muslim authorities during early days cherished the belief that worn out and damaged copies of the Qur’an must be removed from circulation leaving only the unblemished editions of the scripture for use. Also such a safe place was required to protect the books from looting or destruction if invaders come and hence the idea of a grave in the Great Mosque in Sana’a, which was a place of learning and dissemination of the Qur’an and was in existence from the first century of the Hijrah.
Restoration of the manuscript has been organized and supervised by Gerd R. Puin of
Carbon-14 tests date some of the parchments to 645-690 AD. Their real age may be somewhat younger, since C-14 estimates the year of the death of an organism (parchment is animal skin), and the process from that to the final writing on the parchment involves an unknown amount of time. Calligraphic dating has pointed to 710-715 AD. Some of the parchment pages seemed to date back to the seventh and eighth centuries, or Islam’s first two centuries, perhaps the oldest Qur’an in existence.
In 1984, the House of Manuscripts (Dar al Makhtutat) was founded close to the Great Mosque, as part of a cooperation project between Yemeni and German authorities. An enormous endeavor began to restore the Qur’anic fragments. Between 1983 and 1996, approximately 15,000 out of 40,000 pages were restored, specifically 12,000 fragments on parchment and manuscripts dating back to the seventh and eighth centuries.
Until now, only three ancient copies of the Qu’ran are found. The one preserved in the British Library in
The rare style of fine and artistic handwriting had fascinated both Puin and his friend Bothmer but more surprise was waiting for them. When these ancient Qur’ans werecompared with the present standard one, both of them were stunned. The ancient texts were found to be devastatingly and disturbingly at odds with the existing form. There are unconventional verse ordering, small but significant textual variations, different orthography (spelling) and different artistic embellishment (decoration).
It scattered the orthodox Muslim belief that the Qur’an as it has reached us today is quite simply “the perfect, timeless, and unchanging Word of God”. It means Qur’an has been distorted, perverted, revised, modified and corrected, and textual alterations had taken place over the years purely by Human hands.
The sacred aura surrounding this Holy Scripture of Islam, which remained intact for over 14 centuries is gone with this astonishing discovery and the core belief of billion plus Muslims that the Qu’ran is the eternal, unaltered word of God is now clearly visible as a great hoax, a totally downright falsehood. Not only this; the Qur’anic claim that nobody can alter the words of God is also a fake. Qur’an is supposed to be, if we borrow words from Guillaume (1978, p. 74), “The holy of holies. It must never rest beneath other books, but always on top of them, one must never drink or smoke when it is being read aloud, and it must be listened to in silence. It is a talisman against disease and disaster“. Muslims call the Qur’an ‘Mother of Books’ and believe no other book or revelation can compare (Caner & Caner, 2002. p.84). However, it’s all gone now. The end result of whole Islamic struggle for fourteen centuries is a big zero.
As if it is not enough, many manuscripts showed the sign of palimpsests, i.e., versions very clearly written over even earlier washed off versions. The under-writing of palimpsest is, of course, often difficult to read visually, but modern tools such as ultraviolet photography can highlight them. It suggests that the Sana’a manuscripts are not the only variants, but, even before that, Qur’anic text had been modified and re-written on the same paper. It means, Allah’s claim (Q 56: 77-78; 85:21-22) that original text is preserved in heaven on golden tablets, which none can touch except angels is also a fairy-tale.
Puin after extensively studying these manuscripts came to the conclusion that the text is actually an evolving text rather than simply the word of God as revealed in its entirety to Muhammad (Warraq, 2002, p. 109). He is thrilled, “So many Muslims have this belief that everything between the two covers of the Qur’an is just God’s unaltered word. They like to quote the textual work that shows that the Bible has a history and did not fall straight out of the sky, but until now the Qur’an has been out of discussion. The only way to break through this wall is to prove that the Qur’an has a history too. The Sana’a’s fragments will help us to do this.”
Puin even concluded (cited Taher, 2000), “It is not one single work that has survived unchanged through the centuries. It may include stories that were written before the prophet Mohammed began his ministry and which have subsequently been rewritten“.
During their research, as Puin (Lester, 1999) recalls, “They [Yemeni authorities] wanted to keep this thing low profile, as we do too, although for different reasons. They don’t want attention drawn to the fact that there are Germans and others working on the Qur’ans. They don’t want it made public that there is work being done at all, since the Muslim position is that everything that needs to be said about the Qur’an’s history was said a thousand years ago.”
In fact, Puin and his colleague Bothmer knew for sometime during their study that Qur’an is an evolving text but they wisely understood the possible implications of their findings and kept quiet. If Yemeni authorities come to know about this discovery, they may even refuse them further access. This is actually what Puin called ‘different reasons‘. So both sides kept quiet, and those two scholars carried on their research unabated.
Puin’s findings also confirm Wansbrough’s assumption on Qur’anic text. During the seventies Wansbrough concluded that Qur’an evolved only gradually in the seventh and eighth centuries after a long period of oral transmissions and different sects used to argue furiously with each other on the genuineness of the revelations. The reason that no Islamic source material from the very beginning of Islam never survived is because it never existed. In fact Puin admitted ‘rereading Wansbrough‘ during the course of analyzing the Yemeni fragments (Warraq, 2002. p. 122).
Puin’s other radical theory is that pre-Islamic sources have entered the Qur’an. He argues that two tribes it mentions, As-Sahab-ar-Rass (Companions of the Well) and the As- Sahab-al-Aiqa (Companions of the Thorny Bushes) are not part of the Arab tradition, and the people of Muhammad’s time certainly did not know about them. He also disagrees that Qur’an was written in the purest Arabic. The very word Qur’an itself is of foreign origin. Contrary to popular Muslim belief, the meaning of “Qur’an” is not recitation. It is actually derived from an Aramaic word, ‘Qariyun’, meaning a lectionary of scripture portions appointed to be read at divine service. Qur’an contains most of the biblical stories but in a shorter form and is “a summary of the Bible to be read in service”.
Bothmer has painstakingly finished taking more than thirty-five thousand microfilm pictures of the fragments by 1997 and brought the pictures back to
Puin is interested to write a book on this in the future, but already wrote several short essays on their findings in various science magazines, where he pointed out several aberrations between the ancient Qur’an and the present standard one (cited Warraq, 2002. p. 739- 44). In refuting the sacredness of Qur’an, Puin wrote, “My idea is that the Qur’an is a kind of cocktail of texts that were not all understood even at the time of Muhammad. any of them may even be a hundred years older than Islam itself. The Qur’an claims for itself that it is ‘mubeen’, or clear. But [contrary to popular belief] if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply does not make sense…the fact is that a fifth of the Qur’anic text is just incomprehensible. If the Qur’an is not comprehensible, if it can’t even be understood in Arabic, then it’s not translatable into any language. That is why Muslims are afraid. Since the Qur’an claims repeatedly to be clear but is not-there is an obvious and serious contradiction. Something else must be going on“.
The extraordinary discovery of Puin had fascinated Andrew Rippin, a Professor of religious studies and a leading expert on Qur’anic studies. Rippin (cited Warraq, 2002. p.110) concluded, “The impact of the Yemeni manuscripts is still to be felt. Their variant readings and verse orders are all very significant. Everybody agrees on that. These manuscripts say that the early history of Qur’anic text is much more of an open question than many have suspected. The text was less stable and therefore had less authority, than has always been claimed”.
Rippin’s observation was superb. During the period of early Caliphs, Islam grew as political movement and not as a religious movement. A book like Qur’an was required to keep the Muslims in unity. Qur’an is just like a ’status symbol’ of Islam, without which Islam would have died during the time of Muhammad only. Qur’an is purely manmade. Some sort of Divinity was attached to the Qur’an so that it can command some respect because it could not stand on its own worth. This way, in acknowledging the claims of the Qur’an as the direct utterance of the Divinity, the early manipulators had blocked all the criticism, which can otherwise expose it. Qur’an itself prohibits criticism in the verses 5:101 and 5:102. We do not know when religious blindness crept in, but undoubtedly, the early Muslims after Muhammad were more liberal than the present generation we are seeing today. The authenticity of many verses had been called into question by the early Muslims themselves. Many Kharijites, who were followers of Ali in the early history of Islam, found the Sura recounting the story of Joseph offensive, an erotic tale that cannot belong to the Qur’an (cited Warraq, 1998. p.17).
Warraq (1998, p. 14) has the same view as Rippin, “Muslim scholars of the early years of Islam were far more flexible in their position, realizing that parts of the Qur’an was lost, perverted and that there were many thousand variants which made it impossible to talk of ‘the’ Qur’an“.
There is another proof that Qur’anic messages were distorted in the early days of Islam and nothing like ‘The‘ Qur’an does exist any more. Inscriptions of several Qur’anic verses are decorated on the Dome of Rock of Jerusalem, which is most probably the first Islamic monument meant to be a major artistic achievement, built in 691 CE (Whelan, 1998, pp 1-14). These inscriptions significantly differ from the present standard text (Warraq, 2000, p. 34).
Mingana (cited Warraq, 1998. p.80) lamented, “The most important question in the study of the Qur’an is its unchallengeable authority“. This is the only reason; critical investigation of the text of the Qur’an is a study which is still in its immaturity. As Rippin (1991, p. ix) lamented, “I have often encountered individuals who come to the study of Islam with a background in the historical study of the Hebrew Bible or early Christianity, and who express surprise at the lack of critical thought that appears in introductory textbooks of Islam. The notion that ‘Islam is born in the clear light of history’ still seems to be assumed by a great many writers of such texts.’”
Cook and Crone (1977, p. 18) concluded,“[The Qur'an] strikingly lacking in overall structure, frequently obscure and inconsequential in both language and content perfunctory in its liking of disparate materials and given to the repetition of whole passages in variant versions. On this basis, it can be argued that the book is the product of a belated and imperfect editing of materials from a plurality of traditions.” Crone (cited Warraq, 1998, p. 33) elsewhere wrote, “The Qur’an has generated masses of spurious information“.
But in case of Bible, it is different, as Rodhinson (1980, p. viii) observed, “[For Bible] the scientific attitude begins with the decision to accept something as fact only if the source has been proved reliable“. Muslims wrongly interpret the honesty Christians display about some variant readings of the Bible as weakness (Ali & Spencer; 2003. p. 76-9). Christians, like Hindus, want to see their Holy book through scientific and historical point of view. When old Biblical manuscripts, parchments or ancient Hindu manuscripts are discovered, Christian and Hindu scholars almost climb over each other’s shoulder to gain an early access to them. Such findings cause great excitement to them. But sadly, no such excitement exists in Islam. Christians and Hindus are eager to see more and more light shed on the earliest manuscripts of their scriptures, while Muslims resist, often with strong determination. The contrast is really striking. While both Hindu and Christian faiths are strongly backed up by archeological and historical evidence; so far neither any archeological exploration was allowed in
Muslim criticism of Qur’an is very rare and almost nonexistent as Sina (2008, p. 6) lamented, “Muslims are genuinely incapable of questioning Islam“. Recently the ex-Muslim websites are doing some remarkable work on this. Ultimately, these enlightened people will successfully free their Muslim brothers and sisters from the Islamic prison. Otherwise whatever criticism is done on Qur’an are all by the Christian scholars. But Muslims should not take the Christian criticism as a mark of religious opposition. Christian scholars have done much more criticism of their own religion than Islam (Sproul & Saleeb, 2003. p. 17; Spencer, 2007, p. 1).
But once the Sana’a findings are published in details, Islam will not be the same as it was for fourteen centuries. Islam is definitely going to take a strange position. Many Muslims will cast doubt on Qur’anic sacredness and the very ‘romantic’ concept of the Qur’an will gradually disappear and then a very interesting development can be observed. The first question which will appear in their mind is – which version is superior. But then, it is not possible to choose a Qur’an and discard the other by preference. Because the Muslim belief also confirms that who denies a single verse of the Qur’an denies the entire revelation. This is a logical impossibility and since scientific research had already spoken out the truth; many Muslims will seek a way out of this nonsense and will try to free themselves from the tyrannical oppression of living in a false religion.
While discussing Muslim’s apathy to science, reason and natural law, Jaki (cited Spencer, 2002, p. 127) wrote, “What is occurring in the Muslim world today is a confrontation, not between God and devil… but between a very specific God and science which is a very specific antagonist of that God, the Allah of the Qur’an, in whom the will wholly dominates the intellect“. The Sana’a discovery will just add fuel to the fire. Today the Muslim world is beset with frustration. Islam is supposed to be the final revelation and Muslims are supposed to be the “Best of Mankind”, but the reality is just opposite. Muslim nations are poorest in the world (Ohmyrus, 2006, p. 128). A time will come when the religious authorities will be asked by the common Muslims to refute the critics by logic, science and reason, not by the brutal force or Fatwa. As Parvez Manzoor wrote, “Sooner or later [we Muslims] will have to approach the Qur’an from methodological assumptions and parameters that are radically at odds with the ones consecrated by our tradition” (Warraq, 2002, p. 123)
But the Sana’a manuscripts will also provoke another question. If Qur’an is a lie, how the lie survived for so many centuries? The reason is that the Divinity attached to Qur’an is not ‘A Small Lie’, but ‘The Big Lie’. The BIG LIES are very powerful, and it always has a psychological effect on the listeners. The bigger the lie, the more believable it is. Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kamph (1925), “The broad mass of a Nation will fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” Big lies are extraordinarily convincible because it offsets the scale of the listener’s commonsense, as Sina (2008, p. 179) explained, an ordinary person does not dare to tell a big lie thinking that it would not be believed and he would be ridiculed. Since there is no one who had never told a lie in his life, small lies are often detectable sooner or later. But the big lies are so strange that it often startle the listener. When the lie is gigantic, the average person is left to wonder how anyone can have the courage, the impudence to say such a thing.
Big lies always work wonder in politics. As George Orwell (cites Sina, 2008, p. 179) said, “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind“. Today when the divinity of Qur’an is scattered by the Sana’a manuscripts, the spiritual nature of Islam is also exposed. Islam is nothing but a pure Arab political movement. The Divinity was attached to Qur’an, when Arabs started conquering the surrounding nations and Islam was imposed on them by force. Arabs not only imposed Islam on others but also imposed this irrational belief of Qur’anic divinity to the minds of their victims, so that once Arabs are gone, the conquered people cannot come out from this mental enslavement and return back to their original faith. It is a rare political skill. Many companions of Muhammad clearly knew that Qur’an was a fake, but they remained with their prophet to share the booty and to enjoy the women. We all know, after Muhammad’s death, several Arab tribes returned back to their original belief and idolatry flourished.
With much shock to the Muslims; modern study on Psychology had spoken out the truth that Muhammad was an imposter, a madman who was suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissists are such self-absorbed persons who are pathological liars. It means, either they are unaware of their lies or feel completely justified and at easy in lying to others. Their mental condition is such that they have that rare capability to believe their own lies (Vaknin, 1999, p. 24).
And, yes, Adolf Hitler, who knew of the power of Big lie and misguided millions of Germans, is also recognized as a Narcissist. Today Hitler is the most hatred historical figure in
Sina (2008, p. iv, 260) commented, “Islam is like a house of cards, sustained by lies. All it takes to demolish is to challenge one of those lies holding it together. It is a tall building, erected on quicksand; once you expose its foundation, the sand will wash away and this mighty edifice will fall under its own weight” and again, “Islam stands on a very shaky ground. It rests on nothing but lies. All we have to do to demolish it is to expose those lies and this gigantic edifice of terror and deception will collapse.”
Let’s see, once the sacred aura of Qur’an is gone, what other lies are exposed.
First; if there are two or more versions of Qur’an, then there must be equal number of Allahs. So if only two Qur’ans are authentic, is Islam any longer monotheism? How to decide, which Allah gave which Qur’an? If there is only one Allah, then which Qur’an is authentic?
Second; if we still believe that one Qur’an is authentic, then how Allah allowed the others to survive?
Third; is it true anymore that Qur’an (10.64) says Allah’s words do not change – this is indeed the mighty achievement? If yes, what more than one Quran is doing now? If not, how this false revelation is recorded in Qur’an? Did Satan put it?
Final; Bukhari (4.52.233) recorded “Unbelievers will never understand our signs and revelations.” But we see, for understanding the Sana’a Qur’an, the Yemeni authorities invited German scholars because there was no one in
No wonder Sina (2008) concluded, “No matter how you look at Islam it turns out to be a foolish religion.”
Muslims have sold their soul to Muhammad, but can they logically clear the above doubts? The Sana’a episode had put them in such an awkward position, that even circular reasoning or absurd logic will not help. Is not it time for prudent Muslims to give a second thought to their cherished faith? Instead of trying hard to reason out the above doubts, is not it more sensible to agree that a billion plus Muslims had been fooled by a vulgar imposter named Prophet Muhammad? Is not it time for Muslims to care for what is true? As poet Thomas Gray (cited Sagan, 1997, p. 12) wrote,“… where ignorance is bliss, “Tis [It is] folly to be wise“.
To protect the Qur’an from more humiliation, Yemeni authorities already debarred Puin and Bothmer from further examination of those manuscripts. In fact, now they do not allow anyone to see those manuscripts anymore except some very carefully selected non-Qur’anic parchments, which are at display at the ground floor of Dar al-Makhtutat Library. But this is not going to help. The bird is already out of the cage and it is useless closing the door now. More than thirty-five thousand microfilms are out of
Obviously, by realizing the Divine downfall within sight, many Muslims are disturbed and offended. The fundamentalists will not accept Puin’s and Bothmer’s work as having been done with academic objectivity, but see it as a deliberate attack on the integrity of the Qu’ranic text (Taher, 2000). Naturally, those two German scholars will be at forefront of their rage. Puin fears a violent backlash from orthodox Muslims because of his “blasphemous” theory, which he says, he cannot take lightly. By remembering the Salman Rushdie affair he wrote, “My conclusions have sparked angry reactions from orthodox Muslims. They’ve said I’m not really the scholar to make any remarks on these manuscripts“. If Puin’s views are taken up and trumpeted in the media, and if there are not many Muslims being rational about it, then all hell may break loose. There will be some hostile response and riots causing much death and destruction, may be another fatwa from Khomeini and surely some hollow threats from our camera-loving Bin Laden, and his ideological brothers. But can they stop the truth from spreading?
UNESCO has shown genuine interest in the Sana’a manuscripts ever since the Memory of the World programme is started. In 1995, the Organization also produced a CD-ROM in Arabic, English and French illustrating the history of the collection containing both Qur’anic and non-Qur’ani material. The CD-ROM offers 651 images of 302 Qur’anic fragments, indexed by script, frames, etc, a general introduction to the Yemenite manuscripts collections and a brief description on the evolution of Arabic calligraphy (Abid, 1997).
Ursula Dreibholz, a preservation expert who worked on the Sana’a project for eight years as the chief conservator is much frustrated by seeing the lack of concern of Yemeni authorities to protect those manuscripts by using modern technology (1983, pp. 30-8). Neither the security devices are correct, nor is adequate attention being given to the manuscripts to avoid further deterioration (1996, pp 131-45). In fact, Dreibholz (1999, pp 21-5) said that it was her greatest concern to create a safe and reliable permanent storage system for the restored fragments. Also, there is poor storage hardly any protection from insects and water. Most importantly, the real problem is the lack of a fire prevention or detection system, keeping in mind the truly catastrophic fires that have destroyed important libraries and artworks around the world throughout history. The Yemeni authorities said neither they have money nor means to install such fire protection systems. She does not understand the genuine reason behind the apathy of Yemeni authorities.
Here Muslim fundamentalists can see a silver lining in the cloud. No one knows when a devastating fire will break out ‘accidentally’ and destroy all the Qur’anic manuscripts, which are really causing such heartburn to them. After all, for saving Islam, Qur’an must be saved for which Muslims will go any length. If necessary they will burn the Qur’an to save it from logical analysis. Their devotion to stupidity is really that high. Probably, Yemeni authority’s unwillingness to install such fire protection systems is an initial preparation for such an act in the future. Never underestimate the destructive capability of the brainless bigots.
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Author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org