Sam Shamoun in his article on alleged variants in the Qur’an has raised the issue of Ubayy’s so-called different reading of Qur’an 33:6.
In Qur’an we read the verse as;
“The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers ...” (33:6)
Yet there are some reports that Ubay bin Ka’b (RA), a companion of the Prophet (PBUH), used to recite the verse as;
"The prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves, and he is a father to them, and his wives are their mothers."
Clearly the underlined words are an addition to the established reading.
In an earlier post discussing the reality of rare recitals of the Qur’an we learnt that;
‘Sometimes it happened that certain recitals were abrogated in the last days of the Prophet’s life but some Companion who had already memorized it remained unaware of this act, hence he continued to recite it as he had learnt. Because the other Companions knew that this had been abrogated they did not recite it not did they consider it to be correct recital anymore.’
We have evidence that same happened in the case under consideration.
1- The additional words were abrogated:
عن أبي موسى إسرائيل بن موسى، قال: قرأ الحسن هذه الآية النَّبِيُّ أَوْلَى بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ وَأَزْوَاجُهُ أُمَّهَاتُهُمْ قال: قال الحسن: قال النبيّ صلى الله عليه وسلم: "أنا أوْلى بكُلّ مُؤمِنٍ مِنْ نَفْسِهِ" قال الحسن: وفي القراءة الأولى: أوْلَى بالمُؤْمنين مِنْ أنْفُسِهِمْ وَهُوَ أبٌ لَهُمْ.
Abu Musa reported that Hassan (RA) recited this verse as; “The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers.”He reported that Hassan quoted the Prophet (PBUH) to have said, ‘I am closer to every believer than his own self.’ Hassan said; in the initial recital [the verse was], ‘closer to the believers than their own selves, and he is a father to them.’ (Tafsir Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari 20/209)
عن عكرمة رضي الله عنه قال : كان في الحرف الأول النبي أولى بالمؤمنين من أنفسهم وهو أب لهم
It is reported from Ikrama that he said, ‘In the earlier recital [it was]; “The prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves, and he is a father to them.”’ (Durr Manthur 8/127 Cf. Ibn Abi Hatim)
There two reports are adequate evidence that it was well known to early Muslims that the additional words have been abrogated and they were remembered only as such and no more as part of the actual text.
2- Other companions knew the lapse on the part of Ubayy:
Further we do have solid references to prove that other companions got that Ubayy (RA) just had a lapse of mind on this issue.
عن بجالة التميمي ، قال : وجد عمر بن الخطاب مصحفا في حجر غلام له فيه : » النبي أولى بالمؤمنين من أنفسهم وهو أب لهم وأزواجه أمهاتهم ، فقال : احككها يا غلام ، فقال : والله لا أحكها ، وهي في مصحف أبي بن كعب فانطلق عمر إلى أبي بن كعب ، فقال : شغلني القرآن ، وشغلك الصفق بالأسواق
It is reported from Bajala Al-Tamimi: ‘Umar found a Mushaf (manuscript) with a boy wherein it was written, ‘the prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves, and he is a father to them, and his wives are their mothers.’ He said, ‘Erase it O boy!’ The boy replied, ‘By Allah I will not erase it and it is so in the Mushaf of Ubayy bin Ka’b.’ So ‘Umar went to Ubayy bin Ka’b. [According to one narration he raised his voice unto him] Ubayy replied; ‘[Occupation with] Qur’an causes me the lapse as you are caused a lapse by the noise in the markets ...’ (Ibn Hajr’s Matalib Al-Aaliya Hadith 3777. Ibn Hajr classified it as Sahih)
Same narration is found in Tafsir Abdul Razzaq Al-Sana’i 5/275 Hadith 2238 and Kanzul Ummal 2/569 Hadith 4746.
This is also supported by the following narration in Sahih Bukhari;
عَنْ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ قَالَ عُمَرُ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ أَقْرَؤُنَا أُبَيٌّ وَأَقْضَانَا عَلِيٌّ وَإِنَّا لَنَدَعُ مِنْ قَوْلِ أُبَيٍّ وَذَاكَ أَنَّ أُبَيًّا يَقُولُ لَا أَدَعُ شَيْئًا سَمِعْتُهُ مِنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَقَدْ قَالَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى مَا نَنْسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنْسِهَا
Narrated Ibn Abbas: Umar said, "Our best Qur'an reciter is Ubayy and our best judge is 'Ali; and in spite of this, we leave some of the statements of Ubayy because Ubayy says, 'I do not leave anything that I have heard from Allah's Messenger while Allah said: ‘Whatever verse (Revelations) do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten ...’ (2.106)” (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 4121)
Thus proved that Ubayy (RA) was known for his lapses in forgetting that some revelations were abrogated and the same happened in case of the additional words in Qur’an 33:6.
3- Ubayy agreed to the established reading:
Similarly there is clear proof that Ubai (RA) agreed to the established reading without these words. The evidence is twofold;
a- On Umar’s (RA) inquiry Ubayy (RA) agreed that it was a lapse, albeit due to his being much occupied with remembering Qur’an, but lapse still.
b- We know that Ubayy (RA) was part of the twelve member committee appointed to oversee the standardization of the Qur’anic recitals, doing away with personal errors. See Ibn Abi Dawud’s Al-Masahif Hadith 72
Had he any different opinion and evidence for it he must have argued and got the words into the standard text. While we do not find them in the manuscripts standardized under him we must conclude he was by then at par with other companions on this issue. Indeed the incident of ‘Umar (RA) coming to him took place much before this.
4- Can these words be referred to as 'Variants'?
Having known all the above facts, can we call these words as variants? Not really! Because the Author himself asked for the words to be dropped and as soon as people came to knew about these words being abrogated they gave them up. 'Umar (RA) and other companions learnt about their being abrogated earlier so they stopped reciting them, Ubay (RA) learnt it somewhat later and then agreed to what was established. Hence there is no confusion and all the hue and cry of orientalists is just absurdity at its best!
LET ME TURN THE TABLES!
One can observe that there could be no reason for Muslims to reject or insist on the inclusion of these words in the Qur'an for these words had absolutely no significance as far as essentials of Islamic belief system are concerned.
On the contrary we have some interesting examples of variants from the Bible with great significance regarding the controversies among early Christians.
An example is Luke 3: 22:
In the widely current version it reads;
"And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased."
While we know that there is another reading of the same in which italicized words are replaced with;
"Today I have begotten thee."
See footnote to Luke 3: 22 The Oxford Annotated Bible R.S.V. 1952 pub. Oxford University Press, New York 1962.
The editors clearly write before giving this reading; 'Other ancient authorities read ...'
Now the significance of this variant reading becomes evident when we read about a sect called Adoptionists who held that Jesus (PBUH) was adopted as a son by God at the eve of his Baptism. And this is precisely what Luke 3: 22, Hebrews 1: 5 and 5: 5 refer to.
It seems that the uncommon reading was purposefully suppressed to do away with an evidence of Adoptionist views from the Gospels at least!
So Christian fellows are requested to please carry out an analysis of their own scriptures before worrying about the Holy Qur'an -the Last and Final Testament of God for mankind!
INDEED ALLAH KNOWS THE BEST!