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An Episode from the Court of the Khalifah Al-Ma’mun: Commentary on Verse 9 of Surat al-Hijr

By Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ Usmani

We, Ourselves, have sent down the Dhikr (the Qur’an), and We are there to protect it. (Surah al-Hijr, verse 9)

Imam Qurtubi (may Allah have mercy on him) has authentically reported an event from the court of ‘Abbasi Khalifah, Al-Ma’mun. He was used to patronizing occasional debates on intellectual issues at his court where all scholars were welcome. It so happened that a Jew came to attend one of these debates. By his looks, dress and manners, he seemed to be an elegant person. Then, his address during the debate was eloquent and intellectually bright. When the meeting was over, Ma’mun called for him and asked him if he was an Israelite, which he confirmed. To test him, Ma’mun asked him to become a Muslim in which case he could hope to have the best possible treatment from him.

He said that he was not willing to leave the religion of his forefathers which was his religion too. The matter ended there. That person went away. Then, after a year, the same person returned as a Muslim and made a very distinct contribution in the court meeting on the subject of Islamic jurisprudence. After the session was over, Ma’mun called for him and asked him if he was the same person who had come last year.

He said: “Yes, I am.”

Ma’mun asked: “At that time you had refused to accept Islam. Tell me what made you accept Islam now.”

He said: “When I went back from here, I decided to do some research on contemporary religions. I am a scribe. I write books and sell them. They bring good price. This time I wanted to make a test. First, I calligraphed three manuscripts of the Torah in which I made some additions and deletions on my own. I took these manuscripts to the Synagogue. The Jews found them interesting and bought them. Then, I did the same things with the Injeel. I calligraphed three manuscripts, complete with my additions and deletions, and took them to the Church where the Christians were pleased with these manuscripts and bought them from me. After that, I tried the same thing with the Qur’an. I calligraphed three good looking manuscripts of the Qur’an, of course with the usual additions and deletions of my own. When I went out to sell them, I faced a problem. Every buyer I went to would take the manuscript, look into it to determine if it was correct or not, and when he would notice additions or deletions made into it, he would quietly return the manuscript back to me. From this episode, I learnt my lesson that this Book is protected, and protected by Allah Almighty Himself; therefore, I embraced Islam.”

Qadi Yahya ibn Aktham (may Allah have mercy on him), the narrator of this event says that, by chance, he had the tawfiq (ability) of performing his Hajj in the same year. There he met Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah (may Allah have mercy on him) to whom he related this event.

He said: “Surely, this is how it should be because this is confirmed by the Qur’an.”

Yahya ibn Aktham asked about the ayah he had in mind.

He said: When the glorious Qur’an mentions the Torah and the Injil, there it says: …for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s book (al-Ma’idah, verse 44) – that is, the Jews and Christians have been entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the Torah and Injil, the Books of Allah. This is the reason why, when the Jews and Christians did not fulfill their duty of protecting them, these Books were lost through distortions and alterations. This is contrary to the case of the Holy Qur’an about which Allah Almighty has said: and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption) – And We are there to protect it. Thus, when Allah Almighty Himself arranged to have it remain protected, then, despite thousands of efforts made by enemies, not a single change in one tiny dot or case mark could be made.

Today, over fourteen hundred years have passed since the blessed age of the Holy Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and there has been a shortfall and neglect on the part of Muslims in all areas of their religious matters, yet the continuous arrangement of memorizing the Holy Qur’an all over the world stands firmly established as it was. In every period of time, there are millions of Muslims, old and young, male and female, always present on the scene, blessed people in whose hearts and minds the Holy Qur’an lives protected. Before them, not even the highest of the high religious scholar can dare recite a single letter of the Qur’an wrong, for there would be around at that time many, seniors or children, who would promptly apprehend the error.

From the commentary of verse 9 of Surat al-Hijr, by Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani (may Allah have mercy on him) in his acclaimed tafsir, Ma’ariful Qur’an.

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