On the Translation of al-Suyuti’s al-Itqan


Waqar Akbar Cheema

As part of their series “Great Books of the Islamic Civilization” Muhammad bin Hammad al-Thani Centre for Muslim Contribution to Civilization in association with Garnet Publishing have published translation of a part of Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti’s (d. 911/1505) celebrated work al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur’an, “The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qur’an.” Part 1 Volume 1 published in 2011 covers first 35 chapters. As noted in the introduction,

Dr. Hamid Alger translated Chapters 1-14. Dr. Michael Chop (Schub) translated Chapters 15-32 and the last part of Chapter 35. Ayman ‘Abd al-Halim translated Chapter 32 up to the first part of Chapter 35.

— p. xvii

Strange Report on Salim as First Compiler of Qur’an

In Chapter 18 regarding compilation and arrangement of the Qur’an al-Suyuti says:

قلت: ومن غريب ما ورد في أول من جمعه ما أخرجه ابن أشتة في كتاب المصاحف من طريق كهمس عن ابن بريدة قال: أول من جمع القرآن في مصحف سالم مولى أبي حذيفة أقسم لا يرتدي برداء حتى يجمعه فجمعه … إسناده منقطع أيضا وهو محمول على أنه كان أحد الجامعين بأمر أبي بكر.

These words appear so in all the well-known editions including that of Muhammad Abu al-Fadl Ibrahim (Vol.1, 166) which, as noted in the introduction, translators have largely relied on. See also al-Risala ed. (p. 131) and Jami’a Umm al-Qura’ ed. (vol.2, 382).

In the translation at hand Dr. Michael Schub translated the above passage as;

I (Suyuti) say: One of the strange narratives about the first person to have the Qur’an collected was reported by Ibn Ashitta in his Masahif, by way of Kahmas, on the authority of Burayda, who claimed that the first collector of the Qur’an in a complete codex was Salim, Abu Hudhayfa’s slave, who swore that he would never get dressed until he had collected the Qur’an; so he did it … The isnad is acceptable because he was one of the collectors who acted on Abu Bakr’s orders.

— p. 139

This translation involves at least three mistakes.

1) The foremost and most vulgar one is about al-Suyuti’s comment on the isnad of the report. Whereas al-Suyuti says it is munqat’ (منقطع) which means “interrupted”, Dr. Schub puts it as “acceptable.” A munqat’ (interrupted) isnad is one that involves a disconnection rendering it weak and unreliable.

2) Second mistake is in al-Suyuti’s interpretation of the report. Al-Suyuti tends to make sense of the report in line with better known and established facts by saying that Salim was one of those collectors who acted on Abu Bakr’s orders. Even if true this cannot make the interrupted report acceptable!

[It may be noted that al-Suyuti’s attempted reconciliation is also untenable for Salim fell in the Battle of Yamama and the compilation bid under Abu Bakr happened in the aftermath of Yamama itself. See al-Alusi, Tafsir Ruh al-Ma’ani, Vol.1, 23]

3) As for Salim’s vow what the narration actually says is that he swore not to put on his mantle or outdoor clothes. This is not same as not dressing up altogether.

* This page is updated on “as and when” basis *

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Waqar Akbar Cheema

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