Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Much of the Quran has disappeared and the Muslims can’t do anything about it!

An Analysis of Ibn Umar’s Statement that the Quran is Incomplete

Sam Shamoun

According to one report by the son of the second caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, the present text of the Quran is incomplete since much of it has disappeared:

`Abdullah b. `Umar reportedly said, 'Let none of you say, "I have got the whole of the Qur'an." How does he know what all of it is? MUCH OF THE QUR'AN HAS GONE. Let him say instead, "I have got what has survived."' (Jalal al Din `Abdul Rahman b. Abi Bakr al Suyuti, al-Itqan fi `ulum al-Qur'an, Halabi, Cairo, 1935/1354, Volume 2, p. 25)

We find this same narration cited in Abu Ubaid’s Kitab Fadail-al-Qur’an:

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 Warraq, Origins of the Koran – Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book [Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY 1998], Part Two: The Collections and the Variants of the Koran, 9. Abu ‘Ubaid on the Verses Missing from the Koran, by Arthur Jeffery, p. 151: bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

The Shia apologists over at the Answering Ansar website have provided another source for this narrative along with its chain of transmitters, demonstrating that this is a reliable report:

One of the early Sunni scholars Qasim bin Salam (d. 222 H) records:

حدثنا إسماعيل بن إبراهيم ، عن أيوب ، عن نافع ، عن ابن عمر ، قال : « لا يقولن أحدكم قد أخذت القرآن كله وما يدريه ما كله ؟ قد ذهب منه قرآن كثير ، ولكن ليقل : قد أخذت منه ما ظهر منه

Ismail bin Ibrahim narrated from Ayub from Naf’ee from Ibn Umar who said: ‘Verily among you people one would say that he has found the Quran whilst he is unaware of what the total quantity of the Quran was, because most of the Quran has been lost. Rather one should say that verily he has found the Quran that has appeared.’

Ismail bin Ibrahim: Dahabi said: ‘Hujja’ (Al-Kashif, vol. 1, p. 242), Ibn Hajar said: ‘Thiqah’ (Taqrib al-Tahdib, vol. 1 p. 90). Ayub al-Sekhtiani: Dahabi said: ‘The master of scholars’ (Siar alam alnubala, vol. 6, p. 15), Ibn Hajar said: ‘Thiqah Thabt Hujja’ (Taqrib al-Tahdib, vol. 1, p. 116). Naf’ee: Dahabi said: ‘The Imam of Tabayeen’ (Al-Kashif, vol. 2, p. 315), Ibn Hajar said: ‘Thiqah Thabt’ (Taqrib al-Tahdib, vol. 2, p. 239). (Fadhail al-Quran by Qasim bin Salam, Volume 2 p. 135) (Who believes the Quran has been a victim of Tahreef?, Chapter Eight: Sunni reports about deletions from the Quran; underline emphasis ours)

They also mention three other Sunni sources which quote this particular report from Abdullah ibn Umar:

  1. Tafsir Dur e Manthur Volume 1, p. 106
  2. Tafsir Itqan (Urdu), Volume 2, p. 64.
  3. Tafsir Ruh al-Mani, Volume 1, p. 25.

Thus, according to Abdullah ibn Umar no Muslim can ever proclaim that he has found the complete Quran since much of it has been removed, lost, vanished, disappeared etc.

In light of this fact it is not surprising that some Sunnis claim that this is not what Ibn Umar meant. They argue that the word “lost” which Ibn Umar used, namely ‘zahab,’ actually means abrogation. They claim that what Ibn Umar actually meant was that much of the Quran has been abrogated.

Unfortunately for these Muslim polemicists this explanation doesn’t really address the issue but actually raises major problems.

In the first place, what kind of revelation is this that MUCH (not some) of it consists of verses that have been abrogated? Why did Allah even bother revealing much of the Quran to Muhammad when he knew full well that he would end up removing them completely without a trace?

Second, the Quran claims Allah will replace abrogated texts with similar or better ones:

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that God Hath power over all things? S. 2:106

In light of this, can the Muslim dawagandists be so kind as to point out all the verses which replaced these missing citations? Can they produce the exact list of abrogating passages for every verse or surah that has been expunged from the Quran?

Third, Muslims are undecided as to how many verses have actually been abrogated or replaced:

The Abrogated Verses

There are, according to Ibn Salama, [Op cit., see pp.6-8 for the names of these suras.] a well-known author on the subject:

43 suras with neither nasikh or mansukh.

6 suras with nasikh but no mansukh.

40 suras with mansukh but no nasikh.

25 suras with both nasikh and mansukh.

According to Suyuti's Itqan there are 21 instances in the Qur'an, where a revelation has been abrogated by another.

He also indicates that there is a difference of opinion about some of these: e.g. 4: 8, 24: 58, etc. [Itqan, II, pp.20-3; Kamal, op.cit., pp.101-9 also gives Suyuti's complete list.]

Some scholars have attempted to reduce the number of abrogations in the Qur'an even further, by explaining the relationships between the verses in some special ways, e.g. by pointing out that no legal abrogation is involved, or that for certain reasons the naskh is not genuine

Shah Waliullah (d. 1759) the great Muslim scholar from India only retained the following 5 out of Suyuti's 21 cases as genuine:

Mansukh 2: 180  nasikh 4: 11, 12

Mansukh 2: 240  nasikh 2: 234.

Mansukh 8:65     nasikh 8:62.

Mansukh 30:50   nasikh 33:52.

Mansukh 58:12   nasikh 58:13.


A case listed by Suyuti, which has no direct legal implication is the following:

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: When the verse: 'If there are 20 amongst you, patient and persevering, they will overcome two hundred', was revealed, it became hard on the Muslims, when it became compulsory that one Muslim ought not to flee before 10 (non-Muslims) so Allah lightened the order by revealing: 'but now Allah has lightened your (task) for He knows that there is weakness in you. But (even so) if there are 100 amongst you who are patient and persevering, they will overcome 200 (non-Muslims)' (8:66).

So when Allah reduced the number of enemies that Muslims should withstand, their patience and perseverance against the enemy decreased as much as their task was lightened for them. [Bukhari, VI, No.176.]

Still others hold that there are no genuine (sahih) reports available on this issue, going back to the Prophet, while those going back to the Companions contradict each other. [Ali, M.M.: The Religion of Islam, Lahore, 1936, p.32. It may be pointed out that Ali's treatment of the subject is not very thorough. Of the three examples he cites in support of his opinion ('in most cases, where a report is traceable to one Companion who held a certain verse to have been abrogated, there is another report traceable to another Companion, through the fact that the verse was not abrogated' - p. 33) two are definitely not in his favour, while the third can be easily explained. His first case concerns Sura 2:180 (inheritance). It has certainly been superseded by other verses, e.g. 4:7-9 and that is probably all that is meant, when saying it is mansukh. Ali's second case, '2:184, is considered by Ibn 'Umar as having been abrogated while Ibn 'Abbas says it was not'. See below, where I have quoted this very hadith from Ibn 'Abbas (Bukhari, VI, No.32) where Ibn 'Abbas himself explains why he does not hold it as abrogated. The third case is, like the first one, definitely not in support of Ali: '2: 240 was abrogated according to Ibn Zubair, while Mujahid says it was not'. This is wrong, see Sahih Bukhari, VI, Nos. 53 and 54, where both Ibn Zubair and Mujahid hold the verse to be abrogated. Furthermore both Ibn Zubair and Mujahid are tabi'un, and not Companions (sahaba).]

Therefore to them the issue of nasikh wa al mansukh is perhaps not of great importance. However, it is clear from the Qur'an itself, (e.g. in the case of inheritance, 2:180; 4:7-9, etc.) that abrogation occurred occasionally. Hence it is wrong to completely ignore the subject. (Ahmad Von Denffer, Ulum al Qur’an; underline emphasis ours)

This next list is adapted from Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi's, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'aan, published by al-Hidaayah Publishing and Distribution, Birmingham UK, Second Print 2003, Chapter 13. Abrogation in the Qur’aan: An-Naskh Wa Al-Mansookh, VIII. The Number of Naasikh/Mansookh Verses in the Qur'aan, p. 251.

Aboo Bakr ibn 'al-Arabee (d. 543 A.H.) - Accepted only 105 out of 297 possible candidates as naskh.

Mustafa Zayd - Accepted only 6 out of 283 cases.

Ibn al-Jawzee (d. 597 A.H.) - Accepted only 22 out of 247 cases.

Ibn Hazm (d. 456 A.H.) - Examined and accepted 214 possible cases as naskh.

Makkee ibn Abee Taalib (d. 437 A.H.) - Examined and rejected 200 possible cases of naskh.

Aboo Ja'far an-Nahas (d. 338 A.H.) - Accepted only 20 out of 134 cases.

Az-Zarqani - Accepted only 12 out of 22 cases.

As-Suyooti (d. 911 A.H.) - Accepted only 20 out of 21 cases.

Ash-Shanqeeti - Examined and accepted 7 possible cases as naskh.

Walee Allaah ad-Dehlawi (d. 1176 A.H.) - Examined and accepted 5 possible cases as naskh.

If the Muslims were/are unsure concerning the exact number of abrogating/abrogated verses how, then, can anyone be absolutely certain that all of these missing verses are actually part of that which has been abrogated?

In fact, if we take the highest number of cases listed above we get 297 examples. 297 examples out of over 6,000 verses of the Quran are not much at all, but a very small sampling of texts. However, Ibn Umar said that MUCH of the Quran has disappeared! Clearly, abrogation cannot account for Ibn Umar’s words.

Fourth, nowhere does the Quran say that the abrogated verses would no longer remain part of the text itself. In fact, there is not a single reference which says that Muslims were required to expunge any passage from the codex once it had been abrogated.

Moreover, we find cases where Muslims would not leave out any abrogated passage. For instance, Ubayy bin Kab refused to omit any of the verses he had heard from Muhammad even though he knew they had been abrogated!

4719. It is related from Ibn 'Abbas that 'Umar said, “Ubayy was the one of us with the best recitation, yet we leave some of the words of Ubayy. Ubayy said, ‘I took it from the mouth of the Messenger of Allah and WILL NOT LEAVE IT for anything.’ Allah Almighty says, 'Whenever We abrogate an ayat or cause it to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or equal to it.' (2:106)” (Aisha Bewley, Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, Chapter 69. Book of the Virtues of the Qur'an, VIII: The reciters among the Companions of the Prophet: *; *)

See also Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan's version of Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 527.

Ubayy ibn Kab wasn’t the only one since Uthman also refused to expunge the abrogated references from his codex:

XLVII: "Those of you who die leaving wives behind" (2:240)

4262. It is related that Ibn az-Zubayr said, "I said to 'Uthman, '"Those of you who die leaving wives behind" (2:234) in al-Baqara and 'Those of you who die leaving wives behind' (2:240) were abrogated by the other ayat and so why do you write it down?' He said, 'Leave it, O nephew, I will not change ANY OF IT from its place.'" (Bewley, Sahih al-Bukhari, Chapter 68. Book of Tafsir: *; *; capital and underline emphasis ours)

See also Khan’s version of Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 60.

This leads us to our fifth point. Muslims themselves acknowledge that the Quran still contains some of the abrogated texts. Why, then, were all of these missing verses and surahs left out when other abrogated passages were kept in?

Sixth, the doctrine of abrogation contradicts the express testimony of the Quran that none can change Allah’s words.

And recite what has been revealed to you (O Muhammad) of the Book (the Qur'an) of your Lord (i.e. recite it, understand and follow its teachings and act on its orders and preach it to men). None can change His Words, and none will you find as a refuge other than Him. S. 18:27

According to the late Muslim scholar and Quranic translator Muhammad Asad this is one of the verses used by certain Muslims to refute the notion that the Quran abrogates itself:

“… According to Razi, it is on this passage, among others, that the great Qur’an-commentator Abu Muslim al-Isfahani based his rejection of the so-called ‘doctrine of abrogation’ discussed in my note 87 on 2:106.” (Asad, Message of the Qur’an [Dar Al-Andalus Limited 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar rpt. 1993], p. 443, fn. 35: *; *)

Related to the preceding is the sixth problem with this concept. Abrogation is nothing more than an expedient attempt of explaining away the major contradictions within the Quran. In fact, Asad himself believed that Muslims may have developed this doctrine due to their inability to satisfactorily harmonize the major discrepancies within their religious text. He writes in his footnote 87 to Q. 2:106 that:

“… The principle laid down in this passage – relating to the supersession of the Biblical dispensation by that of the Qur’an – has given rise to an erroneous interpretation by many Muslim theologians. The word ayah ('message') occurring in this context is also used to denote a ‘verse’ of the Qur’an (because every one of these verses contains a message). Taking this restricted meaning of the term ayah, some scholars conclude from the above passage that certain verses of the Qur’an have been ‘abrogated’ by God’s command before the revelation of the Qur’an was completed. Apart from the fancifulness of this assertion WHICH CALLS TO MIND THE IMAGE OF A HUMAN AUTHOR CORRECTING, ON SECOND THOUGHT, THE PROOFS OF HIS MANUSCRIPT, deleting one passage and replacing it with another – there does not exist a single reliable Tradition to the effect that the Prophet ever declared a verse of the Qur’an to have been ‘abrogated’. At the root of the so-called ‘doctrine of abrogation’ MAY LIE THE INABILITY OF SOME EARLY COMMENTATORS TO RECONCILE ONE QUR'ANIC PASSAGE WITH ANOTHER; a difficulty which was overcome by declaring that one of the verses in question had been ‘abrogated’. This arbitrary procedure explains also why there is no unanimity whatsoever among the upholders of the ‘doctrine of abrogation’ as to which, and how many, Qur’an-verses have been affected by it; and furthermore, as to whether this alleged abrogation implies a total elimination of the verse from the context of the Qur’an, or only a cancellation of the specific ordinance or statement contained in it. In short, the ‘doctrine of abrogation’ has no basis in historical fact, and must be rejected…” (Asad, Message of the Qur’an [Dar Al-Andalus Limited 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar rpt. 1993], pp. 22-23, n. 87; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Asad correctly points out that abrogation is an indication of human imperfections and weakness. Yet Asad wasn’t the only one who felt this way since the late Maulana Muhammad Ali of the Ahmadiyya sect also rejected abrogation precisely because it violates the claim of the Quran that it is free from errors and discrepancies. Like Asad, Ali acknowledged that Muslims developed this concept because they were confronted with references that conflicted with one another, which they could not satisfactorily explain:

The principle on which the theory of abrogation is based is unacceptable, being contrary to the clear teachings of the Qur'an. A verse is considered to be abrogated when the two cannot be reconciled with each other; in other words, when they appear to contradict each other. But the Qur'an destroys this foundation when it declares that no part of it is at variance with another: "Will they not then meditate on the Qur'an? And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy" (4:82). It was due to lack of meditation that one verse was thought to be at variance with another; and hence it is that in almost all cases where abrogation has been upheld by one person, there has been another who, being able to reconcile the two, has repudiated the alleged abrogation. (Ali, The Religion of Islam [The Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at Islam (Lahore) U.S.A., Eighth Edition 2005], p. 32; bold and italic emphasis ours)

Ali's candid admission shows that the Muslims who appeal to abrogation do so primarily because they are unable to reconcile the errors within the Quran. Abrogation therefore becomes the convenient way of explaining away these discrepancies as well as the variant corruptions to the text of the Quran.

Amazingly, even a Sunni scholar who accepts the doctrine of abrogation candidly admits that one of the reasons for classifying specific texts as nasikh or mansukh is because they contradict one another and cannot be harmonized!

There are a number of conditions that the scholars of usool al-fiqh and 'uloom al-Qur'aan have laid down in order to substantiate any claim of naskh. One of the reasons for this is that naskh is called only as a last-resort, since the very concept of naskh implies discarding a ruling for another. As long as both rulings can be applied, naskh is not resorted to.

The more important conditions are as follows:

1) The most important condition for naskh to have occurred is that the two rulings in question must directly contradict each other, such that both rulings cannot be applied at the same time, and there exists no way to reconcile them. This is because, as just mentioned, naskh is only called as a last-resort, when there exists no other way to explain the two rulings. Therefore, if one of the rulings can apply to a specific case, and the other ruling to a different case, this cannot be considered an example of naskh. (Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'aan, Chapter 13. Abrogation in the Qur’aan: An-Naskh Wa Al-Mansookh, III. The Conditions for Naskh, pp. 236-237; bold and underline emphasis ours)

For more on abrogation we recommend perusing the articles found in this link.

Eight and finally, according to the Shia apologists at the Answering Ansar website there is a hadith where Umar bin al-Khattab used the same Arabic word that Ibn Umar did in a similar context concerning the loss of the Quran:

Narrated Zaid bin Thabit:
Abu Bakr As-Siddiq sent for me when the people of Yamama had been killed (i.e., a number of the Prophet's Companions who fought against Musailama). (I went to him) and found 'Umar bin Al-Khattab sitting with him. Abu Bakr then said (to me), "Umar has come to me and said: ‘Casualties were heavy among the Qurra' of the Qur'an (i.e. those who knew the Quran by heart) on the day of the Battle of Yamama, and I am afraid that more heavy casualties may take place among the Qurra' on other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be LOST. Therefore I suggest, you (Abu Bakr) order that the Qur'an be collected.’ I said to 'Umar, ‘How can you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?’ 'Umar said, ‘By Allah, that is a good project.’ Umar kept on urging me to accept his proposal till Allah opened my chest for it and I began to realize the good in the idea which 'Umar had realized.” Then Abu Bakr said (to me), “You are a wise young man and we do not have any suspicion about you, and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Apostle. So you should search for (the fragmentary scripts of) the Qur'an and collect it in one book).” By Allah! If they had ordered me to shift one of the mountains, it would not have been heavier for me than this ordering me to collect the Qur'an. Then I said to Abu Bakr, “How will you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?” Abu Bakr replied, “By Allah, it is a good project.” Abu Bakr kept on urging me to accept his idea until Allah opened my chest for what He had opened the chests of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. So I started looking for the Qur'an and collecting it from (what was written on) palmed stalks, thin white stones and also from the men who knew it by heart, till I found the last Verse of Surat At-Tauba (Repentance) with Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari, and I did not find it with anybody other than him. The Verse is:

‘Verily there has come unto you an Apostle (Muhammad) from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty… (till the end of Surat-Baraa' (At-Tauba) (9.128-129).’ Then the complete manuscripts (copy) of the Qur'an remained with Abu Bakr till he died, then with 'Umar till the end of his life, and then with Hafsa, the daughter of 'Umar. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 509)

The Arabic word which Umar used here for “lost” is “zahab”. The Shias even provide a link to the Arabic text of the above tradition so that others can verify this for themselves.

Now if the Muslim propagandists are correct then this suggests that what Umar was actually afraid of was that more parts of the Quran would be abrogated as a result of the deaths of the Quranic reciters in the battlefield! Obviously, this makes absolutely no sense since no further abrogation could possibly occur after Muhammad’s death. What Umar was afraid of was that verses of the Quran would be lost with the death of its memorizers. As Ibn Umar’s words clearly attest, Umar’s fears came to fruition since much of the Quran has disappeared and can no longer be recovered!

Hence, Muslim dawagandists must face the reality that they will never know with complete certainty that what they possess in the Quran today is 100% identical to what Muhammad supposedly brought. Sadly for them, the massive evidence furnished by the Islamic sources proves that the Muslims do not have the entirety of what was originally transmitted.

Another Failed Prophecy!

According to the Quran Allah swore to preserve it from corruption:

Verily We: It is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Qur'an) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption). S. 15:9 Hilali-Khan

Move not your tongue concerning (the Qur'an, O Muhammad) to make haste therewith. It is for Us to collect it and to give you (O Muhammad) the ability to recite it (the Qur'an), And when We have recited it to you [O Muhammad through Jibrael (Gabriel)], then follow you its (the Qur'an's) recital. Then it is for Us (Allah) to make it clear to you, S. 75:16-19 Hilali-Khan

Allah further said that his words cannot be changed:

Say: "Shall I seek for judge other than God? - when He it is Who hath sent unto you the Book, explained in detail." They know full well, to whom We have given the Book, that it hath been sent down from thy Lord in truth. Never be then of those who doubt. The word of thy Lord doth find its fulfilment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all. S. 6:114-115

And recite (and teach) what has been revealed to thee of the Book of thy Lord: none can change His Words, and none wilt thou find as a refuge other than Him. S. 18:27

Seeing that the Quran is supposed to be the eternal word of Allah this means then that it too cannot be changed.

However, all the evidence from both the extant manuscripts and Islamic sources, such as the statement from Ibn Umar, shows that Allah failed to preserve the Quran from all corruption. The evidence conclusively proves that the Muslim scripture has missing verses and chapters since much of its parts are lost. This either means that Allah lied since he had no intention to preserve his book whatsoever or that he wasn’t powerful enough to insure that no one would be able to corrupt his scripture. Or, this actually demonstrates that Muhammad’s Allah isn’t God and the Quran is not the word of the true God.

Therefore, none of the Quran’s promises mean anything since they were not made by the one true living, all-sovereign and all-holy Triune God of the Holy Bible who perfectly keeps all his promises and can be trusted to do everything he says.

Suffice it to say, this is another false promise and failed prophecy from Muhammad.

For more on the corruption of the Quran and Muhammad’s false prophecies we recommend the following articles and rebuttals:

Textual Variants of the Quran
Who believes the Quran to be a victim of Tahreef?
Quran Preservation
The Collection of the Quran
Another Open Challenge to the Muslims, Pt.2
Another Challenge to the Muslims, Pt. 3
Another Challenge to the Muslims - Excursus
The incorruptibility of Allah's words and the charge of Biblical Corruption
Reply to Bassam Zawadi's Defense of Muhammad's Failed Prophecy
Muhammad's False Prophecies
Muhammad's Alleged Night Journey to the Jerusalem Temple
Muhammad and His Prophethood
Christian Analysis of Islamic Awareness' Alleged Rebuttal to: Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey To Masjid Al-Aqsa
Is Muhammad a True Prophet?
Muhammad's False Prophecies [Response to Hesham Azmy]
Response to Understanding Islam Muhammad's False Prophecies
Osama Abdallah's reaction to "Muhammad's False Prophecies"
Was Muhammad a Prophet of God?