Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The period of Muhammad’s life from around 570 to 632, is considered  by Muslims the gestation period of Islam. It is belived that during his life the system of Islam was conceived,the Qur’anic records took shape, and the ingredients were prepared for the emergence of the new faith. Over the next 250 – 300 years, successive layers of scripture were canonised and built upon to form the religion of Islam as we know it today.
The relevations previous to Islam, principally the Torah, Psalms and Gospel, came to be considered by Muslims to have been supplanted by the las revelation, namely the Qur’an. Once the Qur’anic text was complied, successive layers of textual materials were drawn up to elucidate the text of the Qur’an; and collections of prophetic stories which were crucial in transmitting the message of the faith at the popular level throughout the world. Figure 2.1 demonstrates the successive layers of Islamic scripture and scholarly wisdom which, step by step, helped to crystallize the identity of Islam.

The section which follows devotes attention to the Qur’anic text and its variant readings (qira’at). There is considerable evidence from the earliest period of Islam in the Malay – Indonesian world  the Malay Muslim scholars were interested in the variant readings. For example, the Cambridge Malay Commentary on Chapter 18 of the Qur’an, one of the oldest surviving Islamic texts from the Malay world, includes information on the variant readings for the benefit of its audience. This interest was also reflected in the much more copious presentations of variant readings included in Tarjunan al-Mustafid, the earliest Malay commentary on the whole Qur’an, which is also examined later.
Furthermore, the interest of Indonesian an Malay Muslims in this topic has evidently continued up to the present day, though the field has increasingly come to be seen as the domain of specialists in the Islamic sciences. Several studies of the variant readings have been made in Indonesian an Malaysian, and either embedded within publications on broader issues of published in their own right.
The canonization process followed by Muslims which has produced the Qur’an text which we know today is an issue attracting considerable scholarly attention an some debate. Our purpose in this study is not to engage with this debate, and thus we will not address questions of historicity regarding the canonization of the Qur’anic text. Our interest rather falls upon perceptions and beliefs held by Malay exegetes and Muslim scholars concerning this issue, which informed their own engagement with ther Qur’anic text as they knew it. In the following paragraph we will thus put ourselves in the shoes of early Malay scholars in examining the issue of scriptural canonization.

Its Complication
The Islamic Hadith, or prophetic Traditions, offer quite detailed account of the early collecting or Qur’anic records. According to the Traditions, the first official collection of the Qur’an took place under the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (632 – 4), and was prompted by a fear that parts of the revelations would be lost forever, as the Companions who had learned the Qur’an directly from the prophet were being killed in increasing numbers in the early battles between the Muslims and their adversaries.
However, if this first collection did occur, it did not lead to absolute uniformity in recording and use of the Qur’anic text across the Muslim world. By the middle of the 7th century several early collections of the revelations had been made by various Companions, each had gained popularity in a different district, and there were some variations among them in terms of the language and content of particular segment of the revelations. The number of these early codices is impossible to determine, but the mre prominent ones could be listed as follows :
·         The codex of ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ud (d. c. 653) who had been a personal servant of the prophet. His codex was followed by the people of Kufa.
·         That of Ubayy b. Ka’b (d. 649 or 654) who served as the secretary to Muhammad in Medina after the Hijrah. His codex was followed by Syrian Muslims.
·         The codex of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (d. 660) who became the fourth Caliph and whose assassination consolidated the emergence of Shi’a sect.
·         That of Abu Musa ‘Abd Allah b. Qays al-Ash’ari (d. 662) who was appointed by Umar as Governor of Basra. During his tenure of this position, his codex became the accepted standard among the population of Basra.

The ‘Uthmanic recension and post-‘Uthmanic
Textual variation
This local variation in the text of the Qur’an was to lead to dissension, and to an early push for reform and standardization – a theme which was to recur at intervals throughout Islamic history. According to the Hadith, disagreement amongst Muslims troops from various parts of the early Empire as to the correct form of certain revelations led the Caliph ‘Uthman (d. 655) to have an official collection made during his reign. This became known as the ‘Utmanic recension. Upon completion of the authoritative recension, copies were sent to the various centres of Islam, namely Mecca, Basra Kufa, and Damascus, with strict instructions that previously-existing codices were to be destroyed.
The different copies of the ‘Uthmanic text which were sent to the various metropolitan centres were not completely uniform and exhibited certain textual inconsistencies. These could have been due in part to scribal error, but were more particularly the result of the inadequacies of the Arabic script used at the time. Due to these orthographic inadequacies, oral traditions continued to circulate and diversify after the ‘Utmanic recension was made. New readings developed which combined the ‘Uthmanic  and Companion oral and textual traditions, with the Ibn Mas’ud and Ubayy codices particularly playing an active part in the emergence of new readings.
It is difficult to identify the exact date of the improvement to the Arabic script using vowels and diacritical points. Orthographic reforms were carried out under the fifth Umayyad Caliph, ‘Abd al-Malik b.Marwan (ruled 685 – 705) and continued through several generations, only finishing towards the end of the 9th century. This, of course, had allowed sufficient time for large numbers of readers (qari – qurra) to emerge. They had become professionals in their activities and Blachère records that ‘by the beginning of the 3rd /9th century their reputation had become extremely controversial ‘. Such was their degree of organization that the qurra’ of Baghdad formed a ‘union’, led by an elected head, the shayk al-qurra’.

The fixing of canonical readings
Reform of the Arabic script had of course tanded to highlight textual variations. The Qur’anic text was once again at the point where reform and standardization were considered necessary. The figure credited with reform in this instance is Abu Bakr b. Mujahid (d.936), the shaykh al-qurra’ at Baghdad in the early 10th century. Ibn Mujahid made reference to several Hadith accounts which recorded Muhammad as saying that the Qur’an had been reveled to him in seven ahruf (now generally interpreted by Muslims as ‘readings’). With reference to Hadith accounts, Ibn Mujahid wrote a work entitled al-Qira’at al-sab’a (‘The Seveb Readings’) which was soon adopted by the authorities as definitive regarding acceptable readings of the Qur’an.
Ibn Mujahid’s choice of readers to form a canonical group of seven appears to have been based on two prime considerations :
·         The ability to identify clear chains of transmission for each of the readers going back to the prophet.
·         Fair representation from each of the great metropolitan centres or Qur’anic studies, i.e. Kufa, Basra, Medina, Damascus and Mecca.
Due to Ibn Mujahid’s efforts, the authorities once again proscribed the pre-Uthmanic  Companion codices of Ibn Mas’ud, Ubayy b. Ka’b and ‘Ali b. Abi Talib which continued to circulate. The seven readers whose systems were accepted as canonical as a result  of Ibn Mujahid’s writings were as follows.
1.      Nafi’ b. Abl al-Rahman b. Abi Nu’aym al-Madani, whose system was popular in Medina.
2.      ‘Abd Allah b. Kathir (d. 737), who was followed by the population of Mecca.
3.      ‘Abd Allah b. Amr b. Amir al-Yahsubi (d.736), whose system was followed in Damascus.
4.      Abu ‘Amr b. al-Ala’ , who attained popularity in Basra.
5.      ‘Asim b. Bahdalah (d.724), whose systems was followed in Kufa.
6.      Hamzah b. Habib al-Zayyat (d. 772), whose system was also popular in Kufa.
7.      7. ‘Ali b. Hamzah al-Kisa’I (d. 804), another reader whose system was followed in the great centre of Kufa.
Some Muslim authorities in certain locations continued to advocate for alternative readings beyond the group of seven identified by Ibn Mujahid. This led to alternative systems of ten and fourteen readers, though the core group of seven came to be seen as more authoritative. The ten readings include the seven core plus those of :
·         Abu Ja’far (d. 747) of Medina
·         Ya’qub al-Hadhrami (d. 802) of Basra
·         Khalaf (d. 843) of Kufa
After the identification of canonical readings by Ibn Mujahid, the popularity of some grew at the expense of others. With time, the reading of Abu ‘Amr became widely accepted not only in Iraq but also in Eqypt, Syria, the Hijaz, Yemen and Basra. That of Nari’ grew in as similar manner in Medina, spread into Egypt an eventually gained acceptance in Kairouan in Tunisia, as well as in Spain and the Maghreb in the Middle Ages. However , it was itself later displaced in popularity in Egypt by the system of Asim, transmitted by Hift, which was adopted in Cairo in 1923 under the auspices of King Fu’ad as the basis of Egyptian standard edition of the Qur’an. The result is that at the present day, only two system of reading the Qur’an are in print among Sunni Muslims. The Kufan system of ‘Asim, via Hafs, has become the standard throughout all the Sunni communities, except for those in west and north-west Africa, where the Medinan system of Nafi’ via his transmitter Warsh, continues to be printed.
Thus the interest of Muslim scholars both within and beyond the Middle East was not devote in equal proportion to each of canonical readers. In Southeast Asia, some clearly had greater appeal than others, and this issue will be developed further in later discussion.

Having briefly explored the issue of the heart of Islamic revelation, the Qur’an, plus its variant readings which were to attract interest from early Malay Islamic scholars, we will now turn our attention to specific areas of doctrinal rivalry and conflict which related to the use of Islamic scripture. Again primary emphasis will be given to those issues which were later to cause conflict in the Malay world.
The rapid expansion of the Muslim Empire in the 7th century resulted in the Arab conquerors gaining control over many different nationalities, religious group and social systems. From the earliest period of Islam, the Arabs gained access to wide-ranging fields of learning from the conquered peoples, and  these were subsequently disseminated throughout the broader Islamic community. From the 8th to the 10th centuries, there was an intensive process of translating Hellenistic works into Arabic, which had the direct support of some of the ‘Abbasid caliphs. Such efforts served to satisfy the great intellectual curiosity in the Islamic world, and met with the support of many leading figures such as Abu Yusuf Ya’qub b. Ishaq al-Kindi (d. 866) who wrote :
We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth from whatever source it comers to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign peoples.
The influences from foreign source upon Islam in these early centuries were many and varied, but none is more significant than the influence of Hellenistict thought. This made it self felt ini many sphares of human knowledge, but it is the field of Greek philosophy and the influence it exerted upon Islamic theology which is particularly relevant for the purposes of this present study.
Greek philosophy was to play an important role in the emerging Islamic theology, but was also to provide a basis for ongoing conflict between various schools of thought within Islam. Greek philosophy, which proposed that human reason provided mankind with a means of learning certain eternal truths, was adopted by some Muslim scholars from the early period of Islam as a basis for formulating Islamic philosophy. This school of thought, while recognizing the overall sovereignty of God in the world and the universe, nevertheless acknowledged that through reason theological notions : creation, the world , and indeed, the nature of God. The Mu’tazila were leading exponents of such an approach to theology, as is succinctly described by Rippin and Knappert:
The Mu’tazilite position is that revelation is to be understood in the light of reason. God’s actions which which can be observed – that is, in the way in which the world operates – can be seen as rational; for God to be consistent, all His actions must be rational . Thus reason/rationality must interpret revelation.
In opposition to this group were the more literalist conservatives the ahl al-hadith, termed the Hadith-minded by Lapidus, who saw the rationalist as drifting away from divine command. This group insisted that divinely sourced Islamic scripture, in the shape of the Qur’an and the Hadith, provided the answers for mankind’s questions and represented the only legitimate source of law and morals. They prioritized the role of the Hadith as a source of guidance the importance of personal discretion, or individual personal opinion based on rational thinking (ra’y), as guide in human belief an behavior.