No. of letters in the Qur'an. Have some been lost?

Qur’an happens to be a book whose miraculous preservation and astounding textual stability over more than one and a half millennium has been accepted by non-Muslims and even by those among them who otherwise spared no chance to criticize Islam wherever they could. Reverend Bosworth Smith had to recognize this great reality. He said:

“… we have a book absolutely unique in its origin, in its preservation, and in the chaos of its contents, but on the substantial authenticity of which no one has ever been able to cast a serious doubt.”
(Mohammed and Mohammedanism, Darf Publishers, London 1986 pp. 14-15)

For professional polemicists this fact and such confessions create a lot of headache and they are but left with the option of resorting to cheap ways of creating confusions in the minds of the people coming to Islam in hordes.

While I was looking at various arguments they come up with, I found an extract from Suyuti’s Al-Ittiqan on one of the most notorious sites of the Islamophobes. Apparently it seems they took it from some Shiite site attacking the Sunni sources. Whatever the case may be, let’s put to death another lie!

The narration:

Here I give the wording as found on some sites;
Hadhrath Umar said at the Saqifa that the Qur’an has 1,027,000 letters” (Tafseer al Itqan” by as Suyuti, page 88)

On one side this narration gives this huge number and on the side today we know that actual number of the letters in the Qur’an is almost one third of this number. Using this they allege that huge portion of Qur’an has been lost.

The Truth:

The narration:

1- The narration actually comes from Al-Tabarani’s Mu’jam al-Awst. Therein the actual wording is;

عن عمر بن الخطاب قال : قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : « القرآن ألف ألف حرف ، وسبعة وعشرون ألف حرف ، فمن قرأه صابرا محتسبا كان له بكل حرف زوجة من الحور العين

It is reported from ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, he said: The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “the Qur’an has 1,027,000 letters. Whoever will recite it with patience with the intention of seeking Allah’s pleasure will get a wide-eyed maiden for every single letter.” (Mu’jam Tabarani al-Awst, Hadith 6805)

Same report is also found in Kanzul Ummal, Hadith 2308, 2426 and has been quoted by Al-Suyuti in Al-Ittiqan 1/82, Durr Manthur 10/406 and Jami’ al-Saghir Narration 8563.

Authenticity of the narration:

2- Just after quoting this narration Al-Tabarani writes: “This narration is not reported from Umar except through this chain.”

3- Shaykh Ali Muttaqi in his Kanzul Ummal (H. 2426) after quoting this narration says: “Abu Nasr said this is a narration strange [both] in chain and the report.”

4-In Mizan al-‘Aitadal (3/639), Hafiz al-Dhahbi in the entry of one of the key narrators of this chain, Muhammad bin ‘Ubaid bin [Adam bin] Abi Ayas al-Asqalani, writes; “He is unique in reporting [this] false narration.” Then he gives this narration.

5- In Lisan al-Mizan (2/432) Hafiz Ibn Hajr Asqalani discussing the same narrator says exactly the same thing as al-Dhahbi said.

6- Shaykh Nasiruddin Albani classified this narration as “Mawdhu” i.e. fabricated. See Da’if al-Jami’ al-Saghir Narration 4133

7- The narrator Muhammad bin Ubaid bin Adam bin Abi Ayas Asqalani was one of quite late times. His father Ubaid bin Adam bin Abi Ayas al-Asqalani, who died in the year 258 A.H. (cf. Al-Mizi’s Tahdhib al-Kamal) was not even a Taba’ Tabi’I (Succeeding Successor ). This means he was from the fourth generation of early Muslims and his son, the narrator in question, Muhammad bin Ubaid, therefore must have been from amongst the fifth generation.

8-Even a fourth generation narrator is considered weak if his reports cannot be verified independently.(cf. al-Muqiza of al-Dhahbi) Then how can a solitary narration of fifth generation person be accepted? Reconsider pt. 2-6 above.

Remember this is the House of Islam and we have a robust science to deal with narrations originating centuries after the people we consider an authority. Contrast this to Bible history and just die in astonishment!

Can this narration be true?

9- The narration contends that Umar (RA) gave the number of the letters of the Holy Qur’an. Most certainly this could be done only if an endeavor was undertaken to count the number of letters.

10- And had the endeavor been undertaken during Umar’s life i.e. in the presence of so many of the companions, there ought to have been some report from other Companions about this huge project. And from them many other people must have reported too but the fact is it has only a single chain and no other narration gives even a hint to any such calculations during the time of the life of Umar (RA). The fact mentioned in pt. 2-6 clearly shows the strange nature of this report.

11- An endeavor of this kind was undertaken during the time of Hajjaj bin Yusuf as reported by Abu Muhammad al-Himani in Kitabul Masahif of Ibn Abi Dawud Narration 301-302. And al-Himani tells us that it took them no less than four months to make various calculation of this nature.

According to the report by al-Himani the people who were involved in the task unanimously agreed on the round figure quite close to what has been counted today through computer programs. The small difference can be catered for considering the act that they might be using different method to count then we do today e.g. we do not know whether shadda was considered a character or not? And what they did about the alif that is read but not written? Whatever may be the proximity of the calculations done thirteen centuries back with that done with computer programs indicates that truly four months must have been spent in making the calculations.

12- It is extremely absurd to contend that such an arduous and time taking task was pursued during the life of Umar i.e. before 24 A.H., while we see that for next 3 centuries only one narrator makes a mention of this.


The report stands rejected both in the light of the science of narration and the reason considering the nature of the task and similar realities attached to the issue.

This also brings to limelight the fact that unlike the full of conjecture and lost in mist history and of the Christian and Jewish scriptures, the Islamic texts are well preserved and Muslims have an objective science to deal with the reports and to grade them as strong or weak, as the case may be.


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1 comment :

    1. Another cool creation from waqar bhai, how do you do this?

      I am advertising your blog in my class notes. ^.^