By: Baha' al-Din Khorram-Shahi
The course of this discussion will clearly reveal that the scholars from the various Islamic schools as well as the Qur'anic historians [the experts and researcher on the history of the compilation of the Imami/'Uthmani masahif and the masahif of some other ashab or the Prophet's (S) companions] including the non-Muslim Islamologists have no dispute over the historical fact and have mentioned repeatedly that Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib ('a) was the firs compiler of the Glorious Qur'an, prior to the collection and the compilation of the 'Uthmani mushaf under the supervision of Zayd bin Thabit.
It is important to note that the issue of the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a) is neither based on inference nor is it a matter of belief but it is rather a historical and well-researched fact, and if there exists any dispute over this issue, it is regarding certain details and the eventual fate of this mushaf. The questions that are generally raised in this regard are:
1. Did Imam 'Ali ('a) collect and compile (bind together between two covers) the Glorious Qur'an in three days or did it take six months?
2. Did the act of "collecting" actually imply "memorization" or did it imply a literal "compilation"?
3. Was the Imam's mushaf compiled on the basis of the order of the revelation of the ayahs or was it compiled in the same sequence as the Uthmani mushaf and other masahif?
4. Did the mushaf also include an interpretation and if it did so, was it included along with the main text or was it marginal?
5. Did it also mention the nasikh wa mansukh (abrogator and abrogated) and their sha'n al-nuzul (the background of the revelation of the verses) as well as the explanatory notes on the muhkam wa mutashabih (clear and allegorical) verses? If so, were the Imam's recordings written within the margins or were they put down besides the main text; and wherever the sha'n al-nuzul was mentioned, did it explicitly contain particular names, not specitied in the main text of the Qur'an, and the names of the munafiqin in particular?
6. Did the nasikh (abrogator) verses appear first or were the mansukh verses put down first?
Attempts have been made to provide answers for these questions in different books of history, including the oldest and the most important of all, namely the Tarikh al-Ya'qubi (which has also been translated into Persian by the late Muhammad Ibrahim Ayati), as well as a number of other books, Qur'anic works, and histories of the Holy Qur'an like the al-Masahif of Sajistani (230-316 AH), the al-Fihrist of Ibn Nadim (b. 380 AH), the exegesis written by Shahristani (b. 548 AH), the al-Itqan of Suyuti (b. 911 AH), the Bihar al-Anwar of 'Allamah Majlisi (b. 1111 AH), and the later works like the History of the Qur'an by Nuldke (1836 - 1930 CE) written in German, the History of the Qur'an by Abu 'Abdullah Zanjani (b. 1360 AH), the History of the Qur'an by 'Abd al-Sabur Shahin (a contemporary writer), the histories of the Qur'an written by scholars like Mahmud Ramyar and Dr. Muhammad Baqir Hujjati, and a few other old and new sources.
Now let us refer to some old and new sources to find the answers to these questions nad to their existing issues and ambiguities in order to arrive at a more clear historical picture of the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a) which was the very first compiled mushaf after the passing away of the Prophet of Allah (S).
Ibn Wazih Ya'qubi has offered a detailed descussion on this noble mushaf and the description of its manner of compilation in his famous book on history, the Tarikh al-Ya'qubi. He writes:
It has been said that 'Ali bin Abi Talib ('a), following the passing away of the Prophet (S), prepared the mushaf and placed it on a camel and brought it (to the supposedly elderly ashab who were now in political power) and stated: "This is the Qur'an and I have compiled it", He (the Imam) had divided it into seven parts.
Then Ya'qubi mentions the seven parts in detail, along with the names of the surahs. The learned translator of this book into the Persian language, the late Muhammad Ibrahim Ayati, in a footnote referring to the number of the surahs has observed:
The surahs mentioned (by Ya'qubi) are hundred and nine in number and five surahs have been missed out.(1)
The late scholar Mahmud Ramyar has offered the most comprehensive, the most documented, and the most critical discussion on the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a), including the views and comments of others, in his book on the history of the Qur'an. As regards Ya'qubi's book on history and the information provided on the mushaf Imam 'Ali ('a), Mahmud Ramyar mentions:
The other source available is the Tarikh al-Ya'qubi (ibn al-Wazih). This book has recorded historical incidents until the year 252 AH. It is a very reliable book but alas, the sequence (tartib) that it mentions does not match with any narrative or knowledge of the manner. He then quotes the seven parts in detail, and continues as follows) "...The total number of surahs mentioned is one hundred and nine and the five surahs that have not been mentioned are the Fatihah al-Kitab (1), al-Ra'd (12), Saba (34), al-Tahrim (66), and al-'Alaq (96).
Besides this sequece (tartib), Ya'qubi refers to yet another sequence, and quotes Imam 'Ali ('a) as saying:
The Qur'an was revealed in four sections. One-fourth of it is regarding us, one-fourth is against those who hold enmity towards us, one fourth of it contains parables, and one-fourth of it is on the muhkam wa mutashabih (clear and allegorical verses).
However, the fact of the matter is that the description provided by Ya'qubi in dividing the Qur'n into seven sections seems rather strange. That which almost all the historians and narrators have mentioned is the sequence of the surahs in the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a) according to te order of their revelation, along with the reasons of revelation as well as the explanatory notes on many of the ambiguities in the Qur'an. Ya'qubi's description, however, the views of all the historians and narrators on this issue.
Most of the narrations indicate that Imam 'Ali ('a) mushaf was compiled on the basis of the order of the revelation of the surahs. For example, beginning with the surah al-'Alaq (Iqra') (96), al-Muddaththir (74), and so on. However, there are differing views as regards the contents of the mushaf nad whether it contained only the revealed text or whether it also contained the sha'n al-nuzul (reasosns of revelation of the verses) and the nasikh wa mansukh (abrogator and abrogated).
Imam al-Baqir ('a) says:
Anyone claiming to have compiled the Glorious Qur'an, exactly in the order that it was revealed by Allah, the Almighty, has lied because no one except 'Ali bin Abi Talib ('a) has collected and compiled the Qur'an in the order of its revelation.
This is a statement from one of the members Ahl al-Bayt ('a) and is the final statement but we do not have any information on its details. It is interesting to note that there is also a narration that attributes two non-original surahs supposedly named, Khal' and Hafad to Imam 'Ali ('a). In a nutshell, it has been said that Imam 'Ali's ('a) mushaf was compiled in the order of the revelation of the verses, containing their sha'n al-nuzul, the timw of their revelation, as well as the interpretation of the allegorical verses, specifying the nasikh was mansukh (abrogator and abrogated) and the general and specific ('amm wa khass), as well as the method of recitation.
However, the differences among the various qaris (recitors) on the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a) or its recitation, based on the information that is available among us today, are mainly the differences in accent or pronunciation (tajwid). Only in three cases, viz. in the Surahs al-'Asr (103), al-A'raf (7:32), and al-Shu'ara' (ayah 215) can any major differences be observed, along with descriptive and exegetic sentences. But it is not really possible to confirm as to what degree these various claims are reliable. What has been attraibuted to Imam 'Ali ('a) as regards the Surah al-'Asr, is very different from the prevalent and existing trend of recitation, in spite of the fact that even the current trend of recitation can be sourced to Imam 'Ali ('a). Therefore, the validity of these narrations is under doubt. Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq ('a) has said (2):
There is a book in our possession dictated by the Prophet of Allah (S) and written in the hand of 'Ali ('a).(3)
Mahmud Ramyar then discusses two other important matters. Firstly, the point that he brings up is that the mushaf attributed to Imam 'Ali ('a) contains as a signature, the words "This has been written by 'Ali bin Abi Talib," whereas according to the rules of grammar, it should have been written as "'Ali bin Abi (not Abu) Talib". However, by referring to some older documentations and certain authentic quotations, he goes on to prove that this style of grammar was used in the early days of Islam and was prevalent even a little prior to the advent of Islam and therefore, it cannot be referred to as a reason to invalidate the attribution of the mushaf to Imam 'Ali ('a).(4) Despite this argument, the validity of the attribution of the said mushaf to Imam 'Ali ('a) would certainly require some solid and irrefutable evidence.
The second point discussed by Ramyar is that several (perhaps more than ten) hand-written manuscripts, all in the Kufic script and scribed on deer-skin, are famous as the Masahif of 'Ali ('a), and in his opinion, it is logically improbable that the Imam ('a) had actually written several copies of the Glorious Qur'an. The late Ramyar then enumerates the reasons for the existence of the numerous masahif attributed to Imam 'Ali ('a).(5)
The second important and ancient (3 century AH) source that has made a reference to the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a) is the book, Kitab al-Masahif, written by Sajistani (230-316 AH), whose complete name is Hafiz Abu Bakr 'Abdullah bin Abi Dawud Sulayman bin Ash'ath.
(As regards his high status in the field of research on the Glorious Qur'an and its various forms of recitation please refer to al-A'lam of Zirikli, The Encyclopedia of the Qur'an and Research on the Qur'an as well as the introduction to the book al-Masahif compiled by Arthur Jeffery, the great Islamologist and Qur'anic reaearch scholar who has written several books on the Qur'an, which has been translated into Persian by Feraydun Badrih'i).
In his book, in the section entitled, The compilation of the Qur'an into a book by 'Ali bin Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him), Sajistani writes:
'Abdullah quoting through Muhammad bin Isma'il Ahmasi through Ibn Fuzay through Ash'ath through Muhammad bin Sirin Tabi'i(33 - 110 AH), a resident of Basrah and one of the greatest of the scholars of his age in most Islamic sciences, the author of the famous book, Ta'bir al-Ru'ya, (refer to al-A'lam Zirikli) has narrated for our benefit that when the noble Prophet (S) passed away, (Imam) 'Ali ('a) pledged that he would not put the cloak on his shoulers (dress up or leave home) except for participating in the Friday congregational prayers, until he would complete the collection and the compilation of the Glorious Qur'an in a mushaf. After a few days, Abu Bakr sent comeone to invite him [Imam 'Ali ('a)]. And as the Imam ('a) visited him, Abu Bakr said: 'O Aba al-Hasan! Are you unhappy about our authority?' The Imam ('a) replied: 'By Allah that it is not so; except that I have sworn not to dress up or to leave home unless it is for participating in the Friday congregational prayers, until I complete the collection and the compilation of the Glorious Qur'an.' He then shook hands with him and returned.
Thereafter, in a statement that appears within parenthesis, indicating the inclusion of some matter from another text, the following has been stated:
Abu Bakr (Sajistani) says: 'No one besides Ash'ath has mentioned anything about the presence or the compilation of a mushaf and his words are not true; and it is worth mentioning that it has been said that the sentence, '...until I compile the Qur'an', actually implies, 'until I complete its memorization', because anyoune who memorizes the Qur'an is said to have 'compiled' the Qur'an.(6)
The third reliable and old (4 century AH) source making a mention of the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a) is the book, al-Fihrist, by Ibn Nadim (b. 380 AH). In the section on the compilers of the Qur'an during the times of the Prophet of Allah (S), he first mentions the name, "'Ali bin Abi Talib, rizwan Allah 'alayh.(7)
In the same section, under the topic "Arrangement of the Surahs of the Qur'an in Mushaf Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali bin Abi Talib karrama Allah wajhah", he writes:
Ibn al-Munadi says: "hasan bin 'Abbas said to me: I came to know through 'Abd al-Rahman bin Abi Hammad, through Hakam bin Zuhayr Sadusi, through 'Abd Khayr, who said regading 'Ali ('a): 'After the passing away of the Prophet (S), he witnessed the concern and apprehension of the people and therefore took an oath that he would not remove his cloak until he would compile the Qur'an. Thereafter, he sat at home for three days and compiled the Glorious Qur'an; and that is the first mushaf in which the Qur'an is collected and compiled through his memory. This mushaf was with Ja'far's family and I personally saw a mushaf with Abu Ya'la Hamzah al-Hasani, that was in 'Ali bin Abi Talib's ('a) handwriting, and some pages were missing from it, and it was preserved by the Bani Hasan family as a legacy (passing from one generation to the next); and the order of the surahs in this mushaf is...'."
Unfortunately the discussion regarding the names and the order of the surahs is missing from this reliable book, and it is not clear whether this has been intentional or unintentional.
One of the important documents that has been recently of Amir al-Mu'minin ('a) is the book, Tafsir Mafatih al-Asrar wa Masabih al-Abrar, written by the great scholar, Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Karim al-Shahristani (b. 548 AH), the author of the famous book, al-Milal wa al-Nihal, who considered himself as an Ash'ari in theology, and the follower of the Shafi'i scholl in jurisprudence. Following the discovery of this book and the subsequent publication of its photographed version (by Markaz Nashr Nusakh Khatti, Tehran) in two volumes as well as the typeset publication of its first volume, researched by Dr. Muhammad 'Ali Azarshab, along with some explanatory notes and published by Markaz Nashr Mirath Maktub (The Center for the Publication of Written Heritage) in the year 1997, it has become evident and proved that Shahristani had strong Shi'ite inclinations (probably of the Isma'ili sect). In the second chapter of his introduction to the manner of the compilation of the glorious Qur'an, he talks about a mushaf that was with Imam Ali ('a) and writes that on the recommendation of the Prophet of Allah (S) the Imam had included sme exegetical secrets in that mushaf. He then reprimands the ashab [the Prophet's (S) companions] who had assumed charge of the compilation of the Qur'an for not accepting the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a) and then continues as under:
...After completing the funeral rites of the Prophet (S), he (Imam Ali) took an oath not to wear a robe, except for attending the Friday prayers, until he compiled the Qur'an; because he had been categorically commanded to do so. He then collected and compiled the Qur'an in the orcder of its revelation without any tampering or addition or subtraction. The Prophet of Allah (S) had earlier mentione (to him) the order and the position of the verses and the chapters ot the Qur'an as regards their sequence...(8)
He then presents a rare point that has perhaps not been mentioned in any other source. In his own words:
... And it has been said that his [Imam 'Ali's ('a)] mushaf comprised the main text and the commentaries within margins.(9)
And then continues as under:
And it is said that after completing its compilation he took it to the people (the so-called elderly ashab) who had gathered in the mosque. They carried it with difficulty and it is said that it was as large as a camel-load. The Imam ('a) announced to them: 'This is the Book of Allah exactly as it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (S) and I have compiled it between two covers. They said: 'Pick the mushaf and take it back with you, we are not in need of it.' The Imam ('a) said: 'By Allah, you will never see it again. Since I had compiled it, it was my responsibility to inform you about the compilation.' He [the Imam ('a)] then returned home, reciting this verse: '...O my Lord! Surely my people have treated this Qur'an as a forsaken thing'. (25:30) (10)
Another significant feature of the book, Mafatih al-Asrar, is that it quotes the sequence of the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a) from Muqatil bin Sulaymn (b. 150 AH).
An outstanding feature of the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a) is that, as stated by Shaykh Mufid (b. 413 AH) and some other research scholars, it contains the interpretations of the meanings of the Qur'anic verses.(11) Moreover, the mansukh (abrogated) verses precede the nasikh (abrogating) ones.(12) It has also been said that the Imam's ('a) mushaf had clarified many ambiguities, including the names of some of the munafiqin (hypocrites), in the margin of the mushaf. These are, in fact, the reasons why this mushaf was not acceptable (by some ashab) and Imam 'Ali ('a), while approving of the Imami/Uthmani mushaf hid his own mushaf forever; and many Shi'ite sources believe that this mushaf has passed on from one generation to the next, of the Imfallible Imams ('a), and is presently in the possession of the Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance)].(13) Certainly, there is no doubt over the historical existence of the mushaf of Imam 'Ali ('a) and its exclusivity in comparison with the other masahif.
1. Al-Shahristani, Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Karim, Mafatih al-Asrar wa Masabih al-Abrar; Tarikh al-Ya'qubi, Vol 2, pp. 15-16, with some changes in certain phrases.
2. Kulayni, Muhammad bin Ya'qub, Usul al-Kafi, Vol. 1, p. 242.
3. Ramyar, Muhmud, The History of Qur'an, pp. 365-373.4. Ibid., pp. 374-477.
5. Ibid., p. 378.
6. Al-Masahif, Cairo: al-Matba'ah al-Rahmaniyyah, 1355 AH/1936 CE., p. 10.
7. Al-Nadim, Abu al-Faraj Muhammad bin Abi Ya'qub Ishaq, al-Fihrist, researched by Riza Tajaddud, Tehran: Maktabah al-Asadi and Maktabah al-Ja'fari al-Tabrizi, 1391 AH/ 1979 CE., p. 30.
8. Al-Shahristani, Mafatih al-Asrar wa Masabih al-Abrar, the photographed version, p. 5.
10. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 12, research and explanatory notes by Dr. Azarshab.
11. Mufid, Awa'il al-Maqalat, p. 94.
12. Al-Zanjani, Abu 'Abdullah, Tarikh al-Qur'an, p. 54.
13. Haqayiq Hammah, p. 160.