Caliph Uthman The Koran Burner and the Not-So-Great-Koran-Conflagration-Kerfluffle (Revised)

The Mass Burn Surviving Uthman’s Koran: ‘Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.

Now that the Not-So-Great-Koran-Conflagration-Kerfluffle initiated by Pastor Terry Jones has apparently been averted—Jones claiming that the Ground Zero Mosque is being cancelled as part of the “deal”—let us recount the extensive Koran burning exploits of Islam’s Muslim Rightly Guided Caliph Uthman (d.656).

The pious Muslim narrative is summarized in a canonical Hadith from Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 61, Number 510:

Narrated Anas bin Malik: Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to ‘Uthman, “O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before.” So ‘Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, “Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you.” Hafsa sent it to ‘Uthman. ‘Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, ‘Abdullah bin Az Zubair, Said bin Al-As and ‘AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. ‘Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, “In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue.” They did so, and when they had written many copies, ‘Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. ‘Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Said bin Thabit added, “A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur’an and I used to hear Allah’s Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): ‘Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.’ (33.23)”

The great scholar of early Islam, Leone Caetani (1869-1935), published an essay in The Muslim World Vol. 5, 1915, pp. 380-390, (reproduced in, Ibn Warraq, The Origins of the Koran, Prometheus Books, 1998, pp.67-75; extracts from pp. 69,74) entitled, “Uthman and the Rescension of the Koran,” which included these confirmatory observations about the rationale for assiduously gathering and burning essentially of the extant Korans in 650/51 A.D. Caetani’s observations emphasize how Uthman’s actions, which tacitly acknowledge the existence of Koranic “variants,” and suggest a very human origin of the text, were motivated by a desire to enforce the dogma of the Koran being uncreated, unchanging, the eternal word of Allah—a belief which persists amongst the Muslim masses to this day.

The official canonical redaction undertaken at Uthman’s command, was due to the uncertainty which reigned in reference to the text. It is clear that in 30 A.H. (650/51 A.D.) no official redaction existed. [Islamic] Tradition itself [i.e., the hadith, Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 61, Number 510, above] admits that there were various “schools,” one in Iraq, one in Syria, one in al-Basrah, besides others in smaller places, and then, exaggerating in an orthodox sense this scandal, tries to make out that the divergences were wholly immaterial; but such affirmations accord ill with the opposition excited by the caliph’s act in al-Kufah. The official version must have contained somewhat serious modifications…

Uthman ordered the compilation of a single official text of the Koran, and the violent suppression, the destruction by fire of all the other copies existing in the provinces…It should be added that even if all existing copies of the Koran could not be traced to Uthman’s official copy, anyone who cast aspersions on Uthman’s action would be liable to the charge of raising doubts about the foundation of all Islam, for the Islamic world from one end to the other lives in the conviction that the text existing today represents the true, eternal, immutable word of God.

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