Tafsir of Surah al-Falaq by Shaykh Haider Hobbollah – Lecture 2

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In the previous lesson we covered the name of this chapter, its merits, whether it is Makki or Madani chapter, and briefly looked at the circumstances of its revelation.

Today’s discussion will be on whether al-Mu’awwidhataan (Surah al-Falaq & Naas) are part of the Qur’an or not. This issue has been discussed over the centuries in different areas and from a number of perspectives.

The first area where this issue is discussed, is in the Qur’anic sciences, when discussion on the numbers of chapters in the Qur’an takes place. There does exist a difference of opinion on this matter (albeit trivial).

Second area where this is addressed is when it is discussed whether the Qur’an has Tawatur or not. This is because some non-Muslims and even some contemporary Muslim scholars have argued that the Qur’an does not have Tawatur, since if it had Tawatur the companions would not have had a dispute on this matter (of how many chapters it has).

The third area where this topic is brought up, is in Shi’i and Sunni polemics. While many Sunnis have accused the Shi’a of belief of alteration (tahreef) in Qur’an, the Shi’a usually respond to the Sunnis by referring to this issue particularly because it is in their books.

Fourth area where this issue is discussed, is also in Shi’i and Sunni polemics, but while critiquing books of hadith. For example, the Shi’a (and even some Sunnis) have used this narration to critique Sahih al-Bukhari and show its weakness due to the incorporation of such reports.

The fifth area where this matter gets brought up, is in jurisprudence. Does denying a chapter or a verse of the Qur’an make someone a disbeliever? If it makes someone a disbeliever, then it implies Abdullah bin Mas’ud was a disbeliever. If it doesn’t make someone a disbeliever, then how can we call someone who believes in alteration of the Qur’an?

A final area where this issue is covered is when miraculous nature of the Qur’an is discussed. There is a discussion on what exactly is miraculous about the Qur’an. Is it that people are unable to bring anything like its content, its chapters, and its verses? Or is it that a rational possibility of their ability to bring such a thing exists, but it is Allah (swt) who simply prevents humans from doing so, by placing obstacles (for example: He (swt) doesn’t allow humans to ever gain such an amount of knowledge by which they would be able to bring a chapter like the Qur’an). The latter was the view of many of the Mu’tazalis and as well as some of the Imami Shi’a – but the details of this are outside the scope of this discussion.

Those who take the latter view – that humans are not capable of bringing a similar work whatsoever, even if they all get together to do so, because Allah (swt) prevents them from doing so and not because of the Qur’ans inherent nature, resort to the story of al-Mu’awwidhataan. They say, that if it were true that the content itself had something miraculous about it, then how is it that someone like Abdullah bin Mas’ud, an Arab living during the time of the Prophet (s), was not able to pick up on the miraculous nature of these two chapters? In fact, he denies them to be even part of the Qur’an at all. They use this to prove that it is indeed possible for humans to bring similar content like the Qur’an, but Allah (swt) prevents them from doing so. This is referred to as Nadhariyyah al-Sarfah (نظرية الصرفة).

We see that this one matter can and is discussed and debated in various different areas and from very different perspectives. Hence it is important to for us to stop here and go over the issue for a moment.

What is the precise issue?

What we know is that many of the companions and early scholars had various opinions when it came to the number of chapters in the Qur’an. Ibn Mas’ud was of the opinion that there were 111 chapters (according to him al-Falaq and al-Naas were not part of the Qur’an, and al-Fatiha was also not part of the Qur’an).

Ubay bin Ka’b – one of the famous reciters – was of the opinion (as it has been attributed to him) that there were 116 chapters in the Qur’an. He believed in two additional Surahs.

Zayd ibn Thabit believed in 114 chapters and this is what is famous today.

Mujahid (from the tabi’een) believed in 113 chapters, because he deemed Surah al-Tawbah and Surah al-Anfal as one.

We do not want to get into the discussion of the two chapters included by Ubay, or why Ibn Mas’ud didn’t deem Fatiha to be a part of the Qur’an. We want to focus simply on the Mu’awwidhataan.

What exactly has been attributed to Ibn Mas’ud?

  1. That he believed these two were not part of the Qur’an at all
  2. That they were supplications of protection given to the Prophet (s) for the protection of Imam Hasan & Husayn
  3. Ibn Mas’ud’s own codex did have Surah al-Falaq and al-Naas written in it, but he erased it later on and said there should be no mixture between the Qur’an and non-Qur’anic text

If one says they agree with Ibn Mas’ud, what difference does it make? It implies that the Qur’an present today is altered through additions to it. This is something all Muslims agree is invalid and addition has not taken place in the Qur’an.

There are only two views[1] that – if one abides by them – will necessitate an alteration through addition to the Qur’an. One is Ibn Mas’ud’s view, since according to this view the present Qur’an would have two additions to it. Another view is of a sub-sect called Maymuniyyah belonging to the Ajaridah branch of the Khawarij. The Ajaridah were given this name due to ‘Abd al-Karim al-Ajarad who was from Sijistan. Apparently, they did not believe Surah Yusuf was part of the Qur’an. There is enough discussion on whether this attribution to the sub-sect it self is even true or not, but if it was, then according to their view we would have an addition to the Qur’an.

How has the tradition of Ibn Mas’ud been transmitted?

We should know that we are focusing on this issue because Ibn Mas’ud was not someone average. He was one of the major reciters of the Qur’an, possessed his own codex and was one of the sources for later reciters and scholars for various issues pertaining to the Qur’an. If it was any other companion, the matter may not have been so important for us.

This view has been attributed to Ibn Mas’ud in two manners – one is very vague (like in Sahih al-Bukhari), but in other books (like in Musnad of Ibn Hanbal or Musnad al-Humaydi, Mu’jam of Tabarani) it is pretty clear.

The vague version:

دثنا علي بن عبد الله حدثنا سفيان حدثنا عبدة بن أبي لبابة عن زر بن حبيش ح وحدثنا عاصم عن زر قال سألت أبي بن كعب قلت يا أبا المنذرإن أخاك ابن مسعود يقول كذا وكذا فقال أبي سألت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال لي قيل لي فقلت قال فنحن نقول كما قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم

‘Ali bin Abdillah (this is al-Madini, the teacher of Bukhari) narrated to us, from Sufyan (who is Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah), from ‘Abdah bin Abi Lubabah, from Zirr (bin Hubaysh).

And ‘Asim (this is now a second chain for the same hadith, and ‘Asim’s name is in place of ‘Abdah. This is also the famous reciter whose qira’ah is famous today) narrates from Zirr who said:

I asked Ubay bin Ka’b: O Aba al-Mundhir! Your brother, Ibn Mas’ud says so-and-so. Ubay replied: I asked Allah’s Apostle about them, and he (s) said to me, ‘They have been revealed to me, and I have recited them,’ So Ubay said: So we say as Allah’s Apostle has said.

We have no idea what Ibn Mas’ud said, what was revealed to the Prophet, what he (s) said and what Ubay says. This is a very vague narration. Some say this is an alteration Bukhari himself made. Some others say it is a precautionary measure Bukhari took so his book would not be attacked, while he knew that all scholars are aware of what is meant here.

Another narration, which also exists in Bukhari and Nisai’s work, has the following chain: Qutaybah narrating from Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah from ‘Abdah from Abi Nujud – the content is the same and it is very vague.

The clear version:

The explanation of the vague narration can be found in Musnad of Ibn Hanbal, Musnad al-Humaydi (teacher of Bukhari) and Mu’jam of Tabarani.

Tabarani in his Mu’jam al-Kabeer records the following narrations:

حَدَّثَنَا عَلِيُّ بن عَبْدِ الْعَزِيزِ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو نُعَيْمٍ، حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنْ أَبِي إِسْحَاقَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بن يَزِيدَ، قَالَ: رَأَيْتُ عَبْدَ اللَّهِ يَحُكُّ الْمُعَوِّذَتَيْنِ، وَيَقُولُ: لِمَ تَزِيدُونَ مَا لَيْسَ فِيهِ؟

حَدَّثَنَا عُثْمَانُ بن عُمَرَ الضَّبِّيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو عُمَرَ حَفْصُ بن عُمَرَ الْحَوْضِيُّ، ح وَحَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بن مُحَمَّدٍ التَّمَّارُ، حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بن كَثِيرٍ، قَالا: حَدَّثَنَا شُعْبَةُ، عَنْ أَبِي إِسْحَاقَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، أَنَّهُ كَانَ يَحُكُّ الْمُعَوِّذَتَيْنِ مِنْ مُصْحَفِهِ، فَيَقُولُ:”أَلا خَلَطُوا فِيهِ مَا لَيْسَ فِيهِ

حَدَّثَنَا الْحُسَيْنُ بن إِسْحَاقَ التُّسْتَرِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا عَلِيُّ بن الْحُسَيْنِ بن إِشْكَابَ، حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بن أَبِي عُبَيْدَةَ بن مَعْنٍ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، عَنِ الأَعْمَشِ، عَنْ أَبِي إِسْحَاقَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بن يَزِيدَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، أَنَّهُ كَانَ يَحُكُّ الْمُعَوِّذَتَيْنِ مِنَ الْمُصْحَفِ يَقُولُ: لَيْسَتَا مِنْ كِتَابِ اللَّهِ

حَدَّثَنَا سَعِيدُ بن عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ التُّسْتَرِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بن مُوسَى الْحَرَشِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الْحَمِيدِ بن الْحَسَنِ، عَنْ أَبِي إِسْحَاقَ، عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ السُّلَمِيِّ، عَنِ ابْنِ مَسْعُودٍ، أَنَّهُ كَانَ يَقُولُ: لا تَخْلِطُوا بِالْقُرْآَنِ مَا لَيْسَ فِيهِ، فَإِنَّمَا هُمَا مُعَوِّذَتَانِ تَعَوَّذَ بِهِمَا النَّبِيُّ : “قُلْ أَعُوذُ بِرَبِّ الْفَلَقِ، وَ قُلْ أَعُوذُ بِرَبِّ النَّاسِ، وَكَانَ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ يَمْحُوهُمَا مِنَ الْمُصْحَفِ

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بن أَحْمَدَ بن حَنْبَلٍ، حَدَّثَنَا الأَزْرَقُ بن عَلِيٍّ، حَدَّثَنَا حَسَّانُ بن إِبْرَاهِيمَ، عَنِ الصَّلْتِ بن بَهْرَامَ، عَنْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ، عَنْ عَلْقَمَةَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، أَنَّهُ كَانَ يَحُكُّ الْمُعَوِّذَتَيْنِ مِنَ الْمَصَاحِفِ، وَيَقُولُ: إِنَّمَا أَمَرَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ  أَنْ يُتَعَوَّذَ بِهِمَا، وَلَمْ يَكُنْ يَقْرَأُ بِهِمَا


Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his al-Musnad records the following:

حدثنا عبد الله حدثني محمد بن الحسين بن أشكاب ثنا محمد بن أبي عبيدة بن معن ثنا أبي عن الأعمش عن أبي إسحاق عن عبد الرحمن بن يزيد قال: كان عبد الله يحك المعوذتين من مصاحفه ويقول إنهما ليستا من كتاب الله

حدثنا عبد الله حدثني أبي ثنا سفيان بن عيينة عن عبدة وعاصم عن زر قال : قلت لأبي إن أخاك يحكهما من المصحف فلم ينكر قيل لسفيان بن مسعود قال نعم وليسا في مصحف بن مسعود كان يرى رسول الله يعوذ بهما الحسن والحسين ولم يسمعه يقرؤهما في شيء من صلاته فظن أنهما عوذتان وأصر على ظنه , وتحقق الباقون كونهما من القرآن فأودعوهما إياه

Interestingly, Ibn Kathir also mentions a similar narration in his exegesis. Abu Bakr al-Humaydi in his al-Musnad records:

عن سفيان بن عيينة، حدثنا عبدة بن أبي لُبَابة وعاصم بن بهدلة، أنهما سمعا زر بن حبيش قال: سألتُ أبي بن كعب عن المعوذتين، فقلت: يا أبا المنذر، إن أخاك ابن مسعود يَحُكهما من المصحف. فقال: إني سألت رسول الله ، فقال: “قيل لي: قل، فقلت”. فنحن نقول كما قال رسول الله 

Generally speaking, these were the narrations by which one gives this attribution to Ibn Mas’ud. As for whether such a views exists in Shi’i books, there is no place except one. That is in the controversial book Fiqh Imam al-Ridha where a narration from Imam Ridha says that they were not part of the Qur’an and were mere supplications for protection.

We know Shi’i scholars have disputed the reliability of the book Fiqh Imam al-Ridha, and one of the arguments for those who say that this book is not from the Imam is in fact the existence of such a report (amongst others).

Coming back to the majority of the reports on this attribution to Ibn Mas’ud, we see that most of them come down to two main chains of narrations. There is a third one as well with Ibrahim narrating from Alqamah, but most of them are Sufyan either reporting from Abu Lubabah or ‘Asim, who both report from Zirr who then reports from Ubay.

The second common chain we see is Abu Ishaq narrating from Abdul Rahman.

There are three views on this attribution to Ibn Mas’ud, amongst majority of the Muslims (Ahl al-Sunnah).

First View: Accepting this attribution on face-value, without justifying it or explaining it

These scholars believe that Abdullah bin Mas’ud had this view and there is nothing we can do about it. Those who want to deny the Tawatur of the Qur’an will generally take this opinion. As a side note, we should mention that when someone denies Tawatur of the Qur’an, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are denying Tawatur of the whole Qur’an, rather it could even mean the Tawatur of a few chapters from it.

The other group of scholars who abide by this view are those who accept Nadhariyyah al-Sarfah in the miraculous nature of the Qur’an. They say this is clear evidence for their view, and that if the Qur’an was a speech “beyond the speech of mankind”, someone like Abdullah bin Mas’ud would have been someone to identify that. How is it that someone like him didn’t notice any miracle in it?

Response to those who accept Nadhariyyah al-Sarfah: The Qur’an was not the only miracle of the Prophet (s). Furthermore, while the Qur’an is a complete miracle, not every miracle of the Prophet (s) was the Qur’an. So it is possible that Ibn Mas’ud was able to identify the miraculous nature of these two chapters, but still didn’t deem them to be the Qur’an. Abdullah bin Mas’ud never said that these two are not miracles, or that they were not revealed on the Prophet by Allah (swt). Ibn Mas’ud knew that there were many things that were revealed to the Prophet by Allah, but just because the Prophet uttered them, didn’t make them part of the Qur’an.

Second view: Nullifying the attribution completely

Some scholars have completely rejected this attribution. Scholars like Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi (d. 456 Hijri), Imam Nawawi (d. 676 Hijri) – a Shaf’i scholar – in his Kitab al-Majmu’, and apparently Fakhr al-Razi (from some of his words). This view has also been attributed to Baqilani (d. 403 Hijri) the Ash’ari scholar – though I (Hobbollah) have not seen it. Dr. Muhammad ‘Abduh in recent also believed that this attribution to Ibn Mas’ud is not correct.

What is their proof? They argue that the opponent’s view is that Ibn Mas’ud didn’t consider al-Fatiha, al-Falaq & al-Naas to be part of the Qur’an. As for al-Fatiha, there is no way he did not consider it to be part of the Qur’an, because the Prophet (s) recited it in his prayers without a doubt and with absolutely no difference of opinion between any Muslim scholar. This is from the most obvious rulings of prayers. Therefore, it is not possible for him to have been awitness to this everyday, yet not consider it to be part of the Qur’an.

Response: The attribution of al-Fatiha is a different case then the case of al-Falaq and al-Naas. What is attributed to him regarding al-Fatiha is generally weak and mostly conjecture. However, what is said regarding his view on al-Falaq and al-Naas exists in important and major works of Hadith. Furthermore, our topic is not al-Fatiha, rather it is al-Falaq & al-Naas.

Rebuttal: We have the codex in our hands today, and these codices are attributed to ‘Ali, Uthman, Ubay and ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud. They all have these two chapters, so how is it possible for Ibn Mas’ud’s codex not to have it. The qira’ah of ‘Asim ends at Ibn Mas’ud, the qira’ah of Hamza, Kisayee and Khalaf all end at Ibn Mas’ud and they all include these two chapters.

Furthermore, those who have repeatedly transmitted Ibn Mas’ud’s qira’ah, all the way till 2nd century Hijri, they have not mentioned or held such an opinion at all.

Response: This is not a bad argument. One way to justify this would be by making an assumption that at one point Ibn Mas’ud rejected these two chapters as part of the Qur’an, and erased them from his codex. However, later it became clear to him that they were indeed chapters of the Qur’an and therefore both views (the attribution and misattribution) become true. This is of course just a mere assumption.

Some interesting questions to think about here, is why didn’t the Prophet (s) inform Ibn Mas’ud that these two were chapters of the Qur’an? Why didn’t Ubay inform Ibn Mas’ud about it? They were all living in Medina alongside the Prophet.

Furthermore, why didn’t any of the companions follow Ibn Mas’ud on this matter? Even his students believed that these two chapter were part of the Qur’an. Why don’t we find any debates taking place between his students and Ibn Mas’ud, or between other companions and Ibn Mas’ud on this topic?

This leads us to ponder whether there was some conspiracy against Ibn Mas’ud during the Abbasid dynasty? Or some individuals who wanted to promote the view that the Qur’an was altered (like it was the case during the Abbasid dynasty) may have fabricated such stories about Ibn Mas’ud to argue their point. These are important questions for us to think about and investigate.

Third view: Accepting the attribution to Ibn Mas’ud, but with a justification

Given that Ibn Mas’ud is a praised companion, and someone like him not believing in these two chapters, needs justification. We will mention a handful of justifications presented by scholars.

This will be discussed in the next lesson.

[1] The Shaykh brings the views of those who believe a certain chapter or chapters are not part of the Qur’an (which necessitates alteration through deficiency according to the rest of the Muslims), which according to them would necessitate the view that the Qur’an has been altered through addition today. This is probably why he didn’t mention Ubay bin Ka’b, who believed in 116 chapters. His view for himself wouldn’t amount to the belief that the present Qur’an has additions – rather it will be an alteration of deficiency for him (even though it does necessitate alteration of addition for the rest of the Muslims).

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