Allama al-Majlisi Revived My People - Part 1: Majlisi & The Distortion of the Quran

Majlisi Revived My People


From early days of Islam, Muslims read the Quran through different qiraat (readings). These readings were not simply recitative, but also interpretative in nature. And with words & diacritics that could differ each other.

During the 1500s CE, the Ottomans had overtaken over nearly the entire Middle East. And something very new and different had taken place: the Ottomans had imposed a rather obscure qiraa - Hafs, from ‘Asim, on the territories they controlled. Hafs became the most widespread reading in the Middle East, that all other qiraat seemed to have lost their popularity and fell out of use starting from this time period. 

Quranic researcher, Marijn van Puttin, describes the monolithic state of qiraat during the Ottoman era below: 

In the Ottomon empire Hafs seems to have just been extremely dominant. All the Ottoman manuscripts I've looked at seem to've been written in the reading of Hafs. So I don't think it was much of a "choice" but just tradition to also have it in the Cairo Quran.” (1)

People in the Ottoman empire read only the Hafs qiraa. They thought it was the only variant of the qiraa, such that any other variant would seem like tahrif to them. It’s just like us today: Hafs is the most common variant of the Quran today, if someone recited the lower part of the Sanaa manuscript to us for example. Where there are words which have the same meaning essentially, but are a different word from the Hafs qiraa. 

Wouldn’t our natural reflex be to assume this is tahrif? 

It would be.

Given that the Shi’i holy cities in Iraq were under Ottoman domination, and often switched control with the Safavids. Cultural exchange took place that also made the Hafs variant dominant within Iran. 

Naturally, Safavid subjects would also have the similar misconceptions as Ottoman subjects of the Hafs qiraa being the only copy of the Quran. In other words, the copy of the Quran same as that of the Prophet.

This was the reality Allama Majlisi (ra) was living in, and the misconceptions he sought to tackle. 

Body (1):

First of all, we have to present Allama Majlisi’s view on the qiraat: 

  1. Al-Majlisi (rah) says in the Imam’s word ‘Read like this’. 

This indicates it is permissible to recite the Quran from other than popular readings, but as an obligatory precaution - one should not transgress against it [i.e, reading readings which are not popular]. 

This is because of the mutawatir (mass transmitted) reports of our Imams instructing their companions of reciting the popular readings, taking upon them [for their deen], until the Qa’im rises.” (2)

المجلسي ره في قوله هكذا فاقرأ هذا يدل على جواز التلاوة على غير القراءات المشهورة والأحوط عدم التعدي عنها لتواتر تقرير الأئمة عليهمالسلام أصحابهم على القراءات المشهورة وأمرهم بقراءتهم كذلك والعمل بها حتى يظهر القائم عليه السلام انتهىقلت يحتمل أنه كان تلكالقراءة أيضاً متداولة بين الناس في عهده (عوصيرورتها شاذة بعد ذلك لا يضر بالجواز أو الغرض بيان القراءة الصحيحة والأمر بالاعتقادبها.

  1. Mir’at al-Uqul by Allama Majlisi(3): 

There is no doubt that it is permissible for us now to recite in accordance with their popular readings, as reports that reached istifada (with regards to mass transmission), have confirmed is the case until the rise of the Qa’im. 

When the Quran will appear to us in one harf, one qiraa, may Allah bless us with witnessing that age.”

ولا ريب في أنه يجوز لنا الان أن نقرأ موافقا لقراءاتهم المشهورة كما دلت عليه الأخبار المستفيضة إلى أن يظهر القائم عليه السلام ، ويظهرلنا القرآن على حرف واحد ، وقراءة واحدة ، رزقنا الله تعالى إدراك ذلك الزمان .

Body (2):

It becomes clear that Allama Majlisi believes we are obligated to recite the popular readings of the Mukhalifeen, and to depend on them for our deen. 

Depending on them in our deen necessitates no corruption in ahkam. And reciting their popular readings, means we don’t have a different Quran from them. 

However, he wanted to make it clear that people shouldn’t be under the illusion that this Qiraa (of Hafs, or Mukhalifeen) was necessarily the qiraa of Rasul Allah. 

Let us give an example from both Sunni and Shi’i tafasir. 

  1. The Mutah verse (4:24) 

So for whatever you enjoy [of marriage] from them, give them their due compensation as an obligation

فَمَا اسْتَمْتَعْتُم بِهِ مِنْهُنَّ فَآتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ فَرِيضَةً

  • Qiraa of Ibn Abbas, Sunni source (Tafsir al-Tabari (4):

“Habib ibn Thabit, his father, who said: 

‘Ibn Abbas gave me a mushaf and said this is the qiraa of Ubayy.’

Yahya said: Isaw the mushaf with Nusayr, it had in it: 

So for whatever you enjoy [of marriage] from them until a specified term, give them their due compensation as an obligation

حبيب بن أبي ثابت , عن أبيه , قال : أعطاني ابن عباس مصحفا , فقال : هذا على قراءة أبي . قال أبو كريب , قال يحيى : فرأيت المصحف عند نصير فيه : " فما استمتعتم به منهن إلى أجل مسمى " 

“I asked Ibn Abbas about mutah of women. 

He said: Have you not read Surat al-Nisa? 

I said: Yes, I have.

He said: Do you not recite in it ‘So for whatever you enjoy [of marriage] from them until a specified term, give them their due compensation as an obligation’? 

I said: No, if I had recited it like this - I would not have asked you! 

He said: This is how it is [i.e, originally revealed].

قال : سألت ابن عباس عن متعة النساء , قال : أما تقرأ سورة النساء ؟ قال : قلت بلى . قال : فما تقرأ فيها : " فمااستمتعتم به منهن إلى أجل مسمى " ؟ قلت : لا , لو قرأتها هكذا ما سألتك ! قال : فإنها كذا.

  • Shi’i interpretation, Tafsir al-Qummi: 

What you enjoy [of marriage] from them” 

Al-Sadiq said: “What you enjoy [of marriage] from them until a specified term”. This verse is evidence for mutah. 

تفسير علي بن إبراهيم: " فما استمتعتم به منهن " قال الصادق عليه السلام: " فما استمتعتم به منهن إلى أجل مسمى فآتوهن أجورهنفريضة " فهذه الآية دليل على المتعة (1).

  • Thus it is evident, there is نقص (missing words) in the Mukhalifeen’s qiraat. The overall meaning does not change, there is no corruption. All Qiraat may have words that are missing from other qiraat - but without which the overall meaning does not change. Hence, the Qiraa of Ibn Abbas differs from Hafs. 

However, the true - fullest meaning lays in that of Imam al-Sadiq (which is also Ibn Abbas’s qiraa) with regards to this verse. 

  1. Verse 37:56

In the Hafs qiraa, the word ِلَتُرْدِين in this verse is replaced by لَتُغوِينِ in the Sanaa manuscript qiraa. Despite the same overall meaning. Yet the word changes.

There is no corruption in meaning nor ahkam, yet there is تغيير change from the verse as recited by the Prophet. 

This wouldn’t be a problem, as the Prophet allowed the Quran to be recited in different Ahruf and Qiraat. 

Conclusion for Body 1&2:

When Allama Majlisi states in Mi’rat al-Uqul (5) there are mutawatir reports of the Quran experiencing نقص وتغيير(missing & changes). It is simply a factual observation. 

It does not nullify the Quran, per his understanding. 

It does not mean we do not resort to the Quran for ahkam.

It does not mean we do not resort to the Mukhalifeen’s reading of the Quran. 

It is simply a factual observation, per the wide and vast window of qiraat & ahruf which the Prophet himself sanctioned. 

Some of the qiraat are closer to what the Prophet recited than others, but can all still be valid as long as they do not corrupt the overall meaning of the verse.

Body (3):

Some may attempt to argue that Allama Majlisi including reports that to an outside observer may suggest the Quran had been altered with. An example is shown below (6): 

“And if, when they wronged themselves, they had come to you, O Ali, and asked forgiveness of Allah and the Messenger had asked forgiveness for them, they would have found Allah Accepting of Repentance and Merciful. This is how it was revealed”.

تفسير علي بن إبراهيم: " ولو أنهم إذا ظلموا أنفسهم جاءوك فاستغفروا الله (4) " فإنه حدثني أبي عن ابن أبي عمير، عن ابن أذينة، عنزرارة، عن أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال: " ولو أنهم إذ ظلموا أنفسهم جاءوك " يا علي " فاستغفروا الله واستغفر لهم الرسول لوجدوا الله توابارحيما " هكذا نزلت

Allama Majlisi (ra) including this report does not believe in the distortion (tahrif) of the texts in the Quran. Not withstanding that Bihar al-Anwar is an encyclopedic work, there is no indication of tahrif in the report.

To clarify, the noble Quran has 2 types of interpretations:

• Esoteric interpretation (batin) 

• The apparent interpretation (dhahir) 

The report mentioned by Allama Majlisi, an interpretation of the Quran - the esoteric - is what is mentioned. 

Esoteric interpretations often are revealed in the style of verses, and perform ta’wil (analyzing wider implications) of the verse instead of just tafsir (interpretation of the verse per specific context, etc). 

The following hadith in al-Kafi (7), narrated by Imam al-Ridha clarifies: 

قلت: " إنا نحن نزلنا عليك القرآن تنزيلا (1) "؟ قالبولاية علي عليه السلام تنزيلا، قلتهذا تنزيل؟ قالنعم ذا تأويل، قلت: " إن هذه تذكرة"؟ قالالولاية، قلت: " يدخل من يشاء في رحمته

I said: “Indeed, it is We who have sent down to you, the Qur’ān progressively.”?

He [the Imam]: ‘[We have sent down to you the Wilayah of Ali progressively]’. 

The Imam was asked: Is this how the verse was revealed? (i.e, Tanzeel)

The Imam said: Yes, [tanzeel] that is of ta’wil.” 

In other words, this is a batin interpretation in the form of a verse.

There's a difference between the 2 matters. 

To say that one believes in the distortion of the whole Quran means that they believe that there are verses that are corrupted, hence the Quran containing errors. And again, to repeat, Allamah Majlisi does not believe this. 

To fully understand - let's look at this hadith (8):

محمد بن الحسين، عن محمد بن الحسن، عن محمد بن سنان، 

مروان عن المنخل، عن جابر، عن أبي جعفر عليه السلام أنه قالما يستطيع أحد أن يدعي أن عنده جميع القرآن كله ظاهره وباطنه غيرالأوصياء

Mohammed b. Hussein, on the authority of Mohammed b. al-Hassan, on Mohammed b. Sinan, on Marwan, on Mankhal, on Jabir, on Abi Jafar (Imam al-Baqir) (as) who said: 

"No one can claim that they have they have all of the Quran - the apparent interpretation & the esoteric interpretation, other than the trustees [i.e, the Imams]."  



(2) Al-Shaykh al-Nuri, in Fasl al-Khitab › bookWeb resultsالشيعه والقران - المكتبة الإسلامية



(5) Mir’at al-Uqul, p525


(7) Al-Kafi, volume 1, page 435

(8) Al-Kafi, volume 1, page 228