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Saudi Press calls for Islamic Reform and amendments in Quran

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Reported From Memri TV
20 Aug 2020

Two unusual articles published this year on Saudi websites called to amend scribal errors in the Quran, and also to reexamine religious texts in light of modern perceptions, so as to make them more readable and adapt them to the present age.

An article published January 10, 2020 by Saudi journalist Ahmad Hashem on the “Saudi Opinions” website pointed out that the Quran as it is known today was written down after the Prophet’s lifetime, in the period of the third caliph ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan (ruled 644-656) using the ‘Uthmanic script, which is named after him. Since this writing system is a human invention, argues Hashem, there is no reason to sanctify it, as many Muslims do. In fact, he says, it is time to correct some 2,500 errors of spelling and grammar that were made by the scribes in that period and remain part of the Quranic text to this day. He  presents numerous examples of such spelling mistakes, and calls to rewrite the words in their present-day standard form, so as to “make the text more readable for [present-day] Muslims and more linguistically correct.”

A second article was published on July 20, 2020 on the liberal Saudi website Elaph by Jarjis Gulizada, a writer and political analyst of Kurdish-Iraqi origin and the editor of the Iraqi magazine Baghdad. He notes that, during the coronavirus pandemic, for the first time in Islamic history, changes were made to the form of Islamic worship, when Muslims were permitted to maintain physical distance from one another during prayer, instead of praying in tight rows, as the Quran instructs. This, he says, shows that there is room for flexibility in Islam, and that the same flexibility can be applied to the Islamic texts, which should be reexamined and adapted to modern perceptions, so as to benefit the Muslims and mankind at large.

Mentioning Ahmad Hashem’s article, he too argues that it is irrational to treat the ‘Uthmani script of the Quran as sacred, and presents further examples of errors that appear in the Quran, in addition to those presented by Hashem.  He calls to publish an amended version of the Quran using modern spelling, because, in its present form, “it is not suitable for the Islamic nation in the modern world, and especially for non-Arab Muslims,” and states that this task should be undertaken by Saudi Arabia, specifically by its king and crown prince.

It should be noted that Gulizada’s article was removed from the Elaph website following furious reactions on social media, from users who accused the Saudis, and in particular Elaph chief editor ‘Othman Al-‘Omeir, of insolence and of insulting the Quran.[1] For example, Kuwaiti academic Dr. Ahmad Al-Dhaidi tweeted: “The Elaph website, directed by Saudi journalist ‘Othman Al-‘Omeir, calls to rewrite the Quran in order to fix the great mistakes of the ‘Uthmani script! Has their contempt reached the point of harming Allah’s book?…”[2] The “Towards Freedom” Twitter account, known for criticizing the Saudi regime, stated: “The Elaph [online] paper, managed by [‘Othman Al-‘Omeir], a close friend of King Salman and an advisor to [Crown Prince Muhammad] bin Salman, demands to rewrite the Quran and reexamine the principles of the Islamic shari’a! The only thing left is to return the idols to the Kaaba.”[3]

The following are translated excerpts from Ahmad Hashem’s and Jarjis Gulizada’s articles.

Saudi Journalist: The Quranic Text As We Know It Contains Some 2,500 Mistakes Of Spelling And Grammar

In his January 10, 2020 article, titled “Amending The Quran,” Saudi journalist Ahmad Hashem wrote: “The Quran as we know it was written down during the period of the [third] caliph, ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan, using the ‘Uthmani script, which is named after him. Most Muslims believe that this version [of the Quran], which was written in the 37th year after the Hijra, when the compiling of the Quran was completed, and has been passed down from generation to generation to this very day, is sacred and must not be amended. 

Ahmed Hashem

“However, [the Quran] in its present form contains errors of spelling, syntax and grammar; it is estimated that there are about 2,500 such mistakes. They were made by the committee tasked with compiling the Quran, and include the addition or omission of letters in some words or the substitution of one letter for another. For example, in Surah 68, verse 6, [the word] بِأَيِّيكُمُ [“which of you”] appears, instead of بأيكم. In other words, an extra ي was added. In Surah 25, verse 4, [the word] جَآءُو [“they committed”] appears, instead of جَاءُوا or جاؤوا. In other words, the plural masculine suffix وا is missing. In Surah 28, verse 9, the word  امرأت [“wife”] appears, instead of امرأة. In 54 instances, the name إبراهيم [Ibrahim] appears… as إبراهم , omitting the letter ي , and the word سماوات [“skies”] is written in this way only once, whereas in 189 other instances it appears [incorrectly] as سموت, without the letter ا… The word قرآن [“Quran”] appears 68 times without the letter  ا… The word سنة [“year”] appears eight times with the letter ة [at the end] and five times with the letter ت .

“The ‘Uthmani script, in which the Quran is written, was formed by several of the Prophet’s Companions and several members of the following generation, and they deserve credit for the effort they made, according to their ability at the time. [However,] the legacy they left us can be developed and amended if there is a better and more convenient alternative, as was done [in later years] when diacritics and punctuation marks were added [to the Quranic text]. The time has come to amend the spelling errors and other errors it contains, and adapt it to the rules of the Arabic language and grammar – for the Quranic text is open to any amendment that will make Allah’s book easier for Muslims to read and linguistically more correct.”[4]

Kurdish-Iraqi Researcher: The Quran Should Be Amended; Islamic Texts Should Be Reexamined, Adapted To The Modern Age

Jarjis Gulizada, a writer and political analyst of Kurdish-Iraqi origin, wrote in a July 20, 2020 article titled “A Call for Rewriting the Quran”: “One of the most important changes made during the coronavirus [pandemic] on the religious Islamic level involved stopping people from praying in tight rows, as accepted in the Islamic  shari’a. In order to protect people’s lives, worshipers were permitted to maintain a distance from one another, although this contravenes the [Islamic] texts. Furthermore, public prayers, and Friday and holiday prayers [at the mosque] were banned in order to protect the worshipers and prevent them from infecting one another with the virus. This is a clear violation of the religious texts, but it was permitted following in-depth study, in order to save lives.

Jarjis Gulizada 

“The important point is that there was room for flexibility, and [therefore] a lenient religious ruling was issued and imposed on our present Islamic reality. For the first time in [Islamic] history since the days of the Righteous Caliphs [the first four caliphs who ruled after the Prophet], this flexibility allowed making essential changes to the mode of worship… with the sole purpose of saving lives. [The ruling was issued] based on the Quranic golden rule that ‘Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity’ [Quran 2:286], which forms the logical and rational basis for the changes that were made. Even if [such changes] are rare and were made only [now], in our modern reality, they constitute a first sign, a very encouraging one, that a reexamination of the Islamic texts and of Islamic ritual is taking place. [This was done] based on modern perceptions and objectives that benefit the Muslims in our modern world, and benefit [all of] mankind and the humanity that all religions strive to attain…

“Given that the coronavirus pandemic prompted such changes on the global, regional and local levels, in the domain of religion and faith and especially in the domain of Islamic ritual, I call on all the Islamic religious authorities to reexamine the Islamic legal doctrine [as well] in the spirit of this flexibility… based on a modern perception that serves all Muslims and benefits all of mankind.

“The first issue I urge [them] to undertake is a reexamination of the Quranic script, [namely] the ‘Uthmani script, which is not suitable for the Islamic nation in the modern world, and especially for non-Arab Muslims, due to the difficulty of pronouncing words that are misspelled… Although Sunnis regard  the ‘Uthmani script of the Quran as sacred, the evidence [they present] for this is irrational, because there is no rational basis for attributing sanctity to something man-made such as a script. Moreover, the task of compiling the verses of the Quran and writing [each of] them down was not undertaken in the time of the Prophet but rather years after his death… in the period of [the first caliph] Abu Bakr [ruled 632-634]. The Quranic [canon] was written down in the period of [the third caliph]  ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan [ruled 644-656]… and [later] copied and distributed throughout the Islamic [regions]. The ‘Uthmani script contains many inconsistencies and errors [involving] the mispronunciation and misspelling of words in the verses, [yet it] remains unchanged to this day…   despite the considerable improvements that have been made to the writing, reading and pronunciation of Arabic over the 1,400 years that have passed since then.

“The errors of the ‘Uthmani script [were discussed] in an article titled ‘Amending the Quran’ by the Saudi writer Ahmed Hashem… who showed, based on the Quranic text, that the Prophet’s scribes made errors when they wrote down the Quranic verses… Further examples of discrepancies between the ‘Uthmani script and the [modern] standard script, involving the omission  of letters, are the following:  omission of the letter ا, for instance in writing الكتب [“the book”] instead of الكتاب…, [and] omission of the letter ن, [as in] نجي [“we will save”] instead of ننجي… The greatest error made in the ‘Uthmani script 1,441 years ago was writing the word Becca instead of Mecca in Surah 3, verse 86, [which says]: ‘Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Becca – blessed and a guidance for the worlds.’ Another error was made in verse 55 of Surah 22, which contains the phrase  يوم عقيم [“useless day”] instead of  يوم عظيم[“great day”]… due to a scribal error in which the letter ق was substituted for the letter ظ. For some 1,500 years no credible authority dared to call for correcting “Becca” to “Mecca” [in Quran 3:86].

“For all these reasons, and in order to present the correct form of the text, free of errors and obscurities, it is incumbent upon us – for scientific, rational, religious and linguistic reasons – to reexamine the ‘Uthmani script of the Quran and rewrite it in the correct manner, so as to amend all the language mistakes that appear in the Quran and remove from it all traces of error.

“This task should obviously be undertaken by Saudi Arabia, by its king and its crown prince, especially since both of them support plans and projects for modernizing the country from every aspect: economic, social, cultural, religious and in terms of tourism. I therefore think circumstances are ripe for accepting the idea of reprinting the Quran in modern script, without errors and obscurities that were caused by the misspelling of words over 1,400 years ago.

“In addition, Iraqi Kurdistan may support [the publication] of a special edition of the Quran for non-Arab Muslims, which will prevent them from mispronouncing [the text] due to lack of familiarity with the intricacies of the Arabic language. Perhaps the president [of Iraqi Kurdistan] will endorse this project in light of its spiritual, ideological and religious importance for the Islamic world. Such a book has [in fact] been prepared by your humble servant, and  it is available [for publication], should [the president] be willing to endorse it and print it…

“Finally, I stress once again that the time has come to look into the Islamic, Christian and Jewish texts from a rational and logical perspective. It is time for the human mind to become the supreme judge and, freeing itself of mysticism and irrationality, amend the textual and ideological mistakes that exist in the religious texts due to human error and due to the undeveloped state of the writing [systems] one or two thousand years ago.

“The coronavirus pandemic has opened the gates wide to new changes in every domain, especially in religious ritual, which in the past were impossible. It is time for Islam to join the modern world, and the best rational  evidence for this, provided by the religion [itself], is Surah 2, verse 44, which says: ‘As you read the Quran, will you not reason?’

“Allah knows the secrets of man’s heart.”[5]

Sources:

[1] Mubasher.aljazeera.net, July 22, 2020; bbc.com/arabic, July 25, 2020.

[2]  Twitter.com/DrAlthaidi, July 22, 2020.

[3] Twitter.com/hureyaksa, July 21, 2020.

[4] Saudiopinions.org, January 10, 2020.

[5]  Elaphmorocco.com, July 20, 2020.

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