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The Quran of ‘Ali Ibn Abu Talib

The following has been adapted from a Shiite article titled, “A Study of Sunni and Shii Traditions Concerning Tahrif,” Part 3 For those who may not know. ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib was Muhammad’s first cousin and son-in-law, having married Muhammad’s daughter Fatima. He was also the fourth so-called rightly guided caliph. The quotations that are cited in this specific article, taken from some of Islam’s greatest authorities, provide even more proof that the present day Quran has suffered textual corruption and is therefore not a perfectly preserved book. All capital emphasis is ours.

Imam ‘Ali’s Mushaf

Ibn Abi al-Hadid observes, “All have concurred that ‘Ali used to memorize the Qur’an during the Prophet’s era and at a time when no one else had yet started doing so. Then, he was the first to compile it.”1

Sulaym ibn Qays reports that after the death of the Prophet ‘Ali confined himself to his home to devote to the task of collect­ing and compiling the Qur’an. He did not leave home until he had compiled it.2

Al-Kalbi reports, “On the death of the Prophet ‘Ali sat at home and compiled the Quran.”3

Al-Kattani reports,” ‘Ali compiled the Qur’an in the order of its revelation after the death of the Prophet.”4

Ibn al-Munadi reports from al-Hasan ibn al-‘Abbas, from ‘Abd al­-Rahman ibn Abi Hammad, from al-Hakam ibn Zahir al-Sadusi, from ‘Abd Khayr that “when ‘Ali saw OMINOUS SIGNS among the people on the demise of the Prophet, he vowed not to wear his rida until he had compiled the Qur’an. He then sat at home for three days compiling the Qur’an.

It was the first mushaf in which the Qur’an had been compiled from his memory.”Considering `Ali’s closeness to the Proph­et and his constantly keeping his company, it was natural that his compilation should have been done in the best manner. ‘Ali himself says:

ولقد كنت اتَّبِعه اتِّباع الفصيل اثر أُمهِ، يرفع لي في كل يوم من اخلاقه علماً، و يأمرني بالاقتداء به. و لقد كان يجاور في كل سنة بحراء فأراه، ولا يراه غيري. ولم يجمع بيت واحد يومئذ في الاسلام غير رسول الله- صلَّى الله عليه و آله- وخديجة و أنا ثالثهما. أرى نور الوحي و الرسالة، و أشم ريح النبوة. و لقد سمعت رنة الشيطان حين نزل الوحي عليه- صلى الله عليه و آله- فقلت: يا رسول الله ما هذه الرنَّة؟ فقال: هذا الشيطان قد أيس من عبادته. إنك تسمع ما أسمع، وترى ما أرى، إلا إنك لست بنبي، و لكنك لوزير و إنك لعلى خير.

… I used to follow him like a young camel following in the footprints of its mother. Every day he would raise for me the banner of his morality and command me to follow it. Every year he would go into seclusion to the mountain of Hira’, where no one else saw him except me. In those days, Islam did not exist in any house except that of the Messenger of Allah and Khadijah, while I was the third after these two. I used to see and watch the effulgence of divine revelation and message, and breathed the scent of prophet hood.

When the revelation descended on the Messenger of Allah I heard the scream of Satan. I said, “O Messenger of Allah, what is this scream?” And he replied, “This is Satan who has lost all hope of being worshipped. O ‘Ali, you see all that I see and you hear all that I hear, except that you are not a prophet, but you are a vicegerent and you are surely on (the path of) virtue.”6

It has also been narrated from Sulayman al-‘A`mash that ‘Ali said:

ما نزلت آية إلا عَلِمتُ فيما أُنزلت و أين نزلت وعلى من نزلت، إن ربي وهب لي قلباً عقولاً و لساناً طلقاً

No verse has been revealed without my knowing about its subject, place of revelation, and against whom it has been revealed. Certainly, God has granted me a perceptive heart and a fluent tongue.7

He has been reported to have said:

سلوني عن كتاب الله فإنه ليس من آية إلا و قد عرفت بليل نزلت أم بنهار، في سهل أم في جبل

Question me regarding the Book of God, for surely there is no verse except that I know whether it was revealed at night or during daytime, in a plain or on hilly ground.8

Sulayman ibn Qays reports ‘Ali to have said:

ما نزلت على رسول الله صلى الله عليه و آله آية من القرآن إلا أقرأنيها “ع” و أملاها علي، فكتبتها بخطي، و علمني تأويلها و تفسيرها، و ناسخها و منسوخها، و محكمها و متشابهما، و خاصها و عامها، و دعا الله أن يعطيني فهمها و حفظها، فما نسيت آية من كتاب الله، و لا علما أملاه علي و كتبته

Not a verse of the Qur’an was revealed to the Messenger of God without his reciting and dictating it to me, and without my writing it in my own hand. He taught me its (the Qur’an’s) interpretation and exposition, its nasikh and manasukeh, and its muhkam and mutashabih. He prayed to God Almighty to teach me to comprehend and memorize it. Hence I neither forgot a verse from the Book of God Almighty nor any knowledge that he dictated to me and which I wrote.9

Now when the Imam had a complete knowledge of all the verses and the contexts of their revelation (sha’n al-nuzul) as per the fore­going tradition, he must have written his mushaf in accordance with the revelation and what the Prophet had ordered him. He also wrote in his mushaf the interpretation of verses as taught to him by the Prophet. Therefore, his mushaf was the most complete among the masahif in respect of exposition and shan al-nuzul of the verses. Similarly, his compilation of the mushaf was in the order of the revelation at different times.

Muhammad ibn Sirin reports from `Ikrimah that at the beginning of Abu Bakr’s caliphate ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib stayed home to compile the Qur’an. Ibn Sirin says that he asked `Ikrimah whether anyone else had compiled the Qur’an in the order of its revelation. He replied: “HAD ALL MEN AND JINN JOINED HANDS TO COMPILE IT IN THIS MANNER, THEY WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO SO.”10

Al-Mufid observes regarding `Ali’s mushaf, “He mentioned the Makki verses before the Madani, and the mansukh before the nasikh, and placed every part of it in its rightful place.”11 He also says: “That regarding which there is no difference of opinion among Muslim exe­getes is that deletion of the parts of Amir mushaf con­sisted of interpretations (tawail) and the exposition of its meanings in accordance with the intent of the revelation.”12

This observation clearly shows that the claim that the Imam’s mushaf contained certain texts that established his right to the khilafah pertains to ta’wail of the revealed text of the Qur’an.

Ibn Jazzi al-Kalbi is reported to have said, “Had `Ali’s mushaf been accessible, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A SOURCE OF MUCH KNOWLEDGE.’13

Regarding the difference present among the initial compilers con­cerning the order of the surahs, al-Suyuti says, “Among them was ‘Ali’s mushaf, which arranged the surahs in the order of their revelation. It began with Iqra’, followed by al-Muddaththir, Nun, al-Muzzammil, al-Takwir, and so on till the end of the Makki and Madani (surahs).”14

Also, Ibn Shin, on the basis of Ibn Ashtah’s report, said: “Ali had recorded in his mushaf the nasikh and the mansakh (verses).” Ibn Shin is also reported to have said, “I SOUGHT THAT BOOK AND WROTE TO MADINAH CONCERNING IT, BUT WAS UNABLE TO FIND IT.”15 He is also reported to have said, “Had I been able to find that book, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A SOURCE OF KNOWLEDGE.”16

Now, did Ibn Sirin believe that `Ali’s mushaf contained some verses which were not present in other masahif? It wasn’t so; rather, those additional material consisted of interpretations and facts revealed to the Prophet concerning the verses. This is exactly what the Imam has himself expressly affirmed.

ولقد جئتهم بالكتاب مشتملاً على التنزيل و التأويل

I surely brought them the Book comprising the revelation and the interpretation.17

This explanation is affirmed by the traditions18 which explicitly mention the presence of names of some hypocrites of Quraysh in the Imam’s mushaf, that these were part of the ta’wilat and sha’n al-nuzul of the verses.

As this kind of compilation of the Qur’an was not done by anyone except ‘Ali, al-Imam Jafar al-Sadiq remarked:

ما ادَّعى احد من الناس أنه جمع القرآن كُله كما أُنزل إلا كذّاب، وما جمعه و حفظه كما أُنزل إلا علي بن أبي طالب و الائمة بعده

No one among the people, except a liar, can claim having compiled the whole Qur’an as it was revealed AND NO ONE EXCEPT ‘ALI AND THE IMAMS SUCCEEDING HIM HAVE COMPILED AND PRESERVED IT AS IT WAS REVEALED?”19

As to the interpretation that `Ali’s compilation of the Qur’an meant his compilation of it in his memory,20 it is contrary to what the traditions clearly mention concerning its compilation in a codex (mushaf). Hence it is clear that in the traditions there is nothing about ‘Ali’s mushaf that hints at the presence in it of some verses not present in other masahif; rather it only contained the interpretations and sha’n al-nuzil of some verses.

  1. Ibn Abi Al-Hadid Sharh, Nahj al-balaghah, 1, 27
  2. Kitab Sulaym ibn Qays, 25
  3. Al-Tashil fi Ulum al-tanzil, i, 4
  4. Al-Tardilb al-‘idarriyyah, 1, 46
  5. Ibn al-Nadim,al-Fihris’t, 30; Ay ãn al-Shiah, 2nd edition, Dir al-Ta’aruf, i, 89; Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, i, 545; al-Tabaqat al-kubra, ii, 338; Ibn Kathir, al-Tafsir, iv, 28, chapter on fadail al-Quran.
  6. Nahj al-balaghah, ed. Subhi al-Salih, 300, 301, al-Khutbah al-Qasiah; see also in this regard Ibn Abi al-Hadid, Sharh: Nahj al-balaghah, xiii, 198-212
  7. Tafsir al-`Ayyashi, i, 17; al-Bihar, vol. 89, p. 97; al-Tabaqat al-kubra, 338
  8. Al-Tabaqat al-kubra, ii, 338
  9. Ikmal al-din, 1, 401; Bihar, al anwar, vol. 89, pp. 98, 99, 79; al-Burhan, i, 16; at-Ihttijaj, 139; see also Nahj al-sa`adah, ii, 618, 620-624; 628, 676, which quotes from different sources.
  10. A1-Itqan, 1, 57, 58
  11. Bihar, al-‘Anwar, vol. 89, p. 74
  12. Await al-maqadlit, 94.
  13. Al-Tashil fi ‘Ulum al-tanzil, i, 4
  14. Al-Itqan, i, 62
  15. Al-Itqan, i, 57; al-Tabaqat al-kubra, ii, 101
  16. Tarikh al-khulafa, 185; al-Tabaqat al-kubra, ii, 388
  17. Ala al-Rahman, 357, from Nahj al-balaghah, etc..
  18. Al-Ihtijaj, see al-Bihar, vol. 92, p. 42; Basa’ir al-darajat, 193; al-Kafi, kitab fadl al-Qur’an, contains numerous traditions
  19. Al-Kafi, Kitab fadl al-Quran
  20. Ruh al-maani, i, 21

And here is another tradition:

On the authority of Muhammad ibn Sirin, on the authority of Ikrima, who said, “After Abu Bakr’s inauguration, Ali ibn Abu Talib stayed in his house. So it was said to Abu Bakr, ‘He is averse to swearing allegiance to you.’ Then Abu Bakr sent for him and said, ‘Are you averse to swearing allegiance to me?’ He said, ‘No. By God.’ He [Abu Bakr] said, ‘What makes you upset with me?’ He said, ‘I think something has been added to the Book of God. So I said to myself that I will not put on my street clothes except for the Friday prayer until it has been resolved.’” (Jalal al-Din Al-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fi Ulumil-Quran (Suhail Academy, Lahore 1980], Volume 1, pp. 57-58).


As for his words in commentary on the Qur’an, there are many.

Ibn Sa’d narrated that ‘Ali said, ‘By Allah, an ayah has not been revealed without me knowing about what it was revealed, where it was revealed, where it was revealed, and about whom it was revealed. My Lord has given me a very intelligent heart and a true and articulate tongue.’

Ibn Sa’d and others narrated that Abu’t-Tufayl said: ‘Ali said, ‘Ask me about the Book of Allah, because there is no ayah but that I know whether it was revealed at night or in daytime, on the plain or in the mountain.

Ibn Abi Dawud narrated that Muhammad ibn Sirin said: When the Prophet died, ‘Ali was slow to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr met him and said, ‘Do you dislike my (having the) authority?’ He said, ‘No, but I have sworn not to don my mantle, except for the prayer, until I have collected the Qur’an.’ They claimed that he wrote it in the order of its revelation. Muhammad (ibn Sirin) thus said, ‘If that book were come across, there would be knowledge in it.’ (The History of the Khalifahs who took the right way: A Translation of the Chapters on al-Khulafa’ ar-Rashidun from Tarikh al-Khulafa’ of Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, translated by Abdassamad Clarke [Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd., London, UK: 3rd revised edition, 1995], pp. 205-206

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