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PUNISHMENT FOR ADULTERY IN ISLAM
A Detailed Examination

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(Chapter 3 added on May 15, 2004)

[In Progress]


PART I

Chapter 3

 

The Claim That The Stoning Penalty Is Or Was Once Found In The Qur`an

 

In this chapter we discuss the last two of the five views that the supporters of al-rajm advance to deal with the Qur`anic penalty for zina`. These two views state:

 

IV)              The stoning penalty is found in the Qur`an but it is known only to scholars of great erudition capable of diving deep into the meanings of the Book of God.

V)                The Qur`an did prescribe stoning for adultery but the verse in which the law was stated was omitted from the Qur`an.

 

IV) THE CLAIM THAT THE STONING PENALTY CAN BE FOUND IN THE QUR`AN BY THOSE WITH INSIGHT

 

Ibn Qayyim mentions in his book, Zad al-Miad, a tradition from Ibn ‘Abbas that al-rajm is prescribed in the Book of God but to find it there one needs to be a ghawwas, that is, capable of diving deep (into the meanings of the Qur`an). This view is justified on the basis of Qur`an 5:15, which states that the Prophet brings into open much of what the people of the book used to hide and overlooks much, i. e., lets a great deal remain hidden, al-rajm being one of them. Ibn Qayyim also notes that some other scholars hold the same view. We saw in Chapter 1 that Mawdudi also entertains a similar opinion, which he combines with the first of the five views,  that is, the view that the Qur`anic penalty of 100 lashes is only for the unmarried case. 

Three observations are enough to see the extreme weakness of this view. 

First, the tradition cited by Ibn Qayyim about Ibn ‘Abbas has not been accepted in any early or reliable collection. 

Second, the Qur`an often tells us that it makes things clear (2:187, 219, 221, 242, 266, 98:1-3 etc). It even says that it makes “everything” clear (16:89). It also states that God and the angels and (knowledgeable) human beings curse those who hide what God has revealed (2:159). Will such a revelation hide its laws and let people struggle to dig for its instructions like mysteries? Does that not amount to playing games with the people? Is it not too much like the Trinitarian Christians who find the monotheistic Old and New Testaments full of hidden references to the Trinity or like the Shi‘as who see a hidden mention of ‘Ali everywhere in the Qur`an? 

The Qur`an may indeed use statements with unclear meaning when it deals with the Unseen or the Hereafter or some other abstract or complex subject matters, although even in that case we do not expect the Qur`an to be unclear for the sake of being unclear but only because of the inherent difficulty of talking about such subjects within our human language. The Qur`an may also let some of the matters that people of the book used to hide remain hidden, as stated in 5:15. But it is unbelievable that the Qur`an will prescribe punishment for a crime using such an unclear language that it becomes a hidden mystery. 

Third, suppose that there is some divine wisdom in referring to al-rajm in an unclear, cryptic way, a wisdom that we cannot fathom. Then why do some ahadith, considered authentic by the supporters of al-rajm, talk about al-rajm in a clear way? What happened in case of the Hadith to the divine wisdom behind hiding the commandment about al-rajm? 

 

V) THE CLAIM THAT THE QUR`AN ONCE CONTAINED A VERSE ABOUT AL-RAJM BUT THE VERSE WAS OMITTED FROM THE QUR`AN

 

Although this claim has the support of several ahadith, one of which uses the authority of ‘Umar and is found in most Hadith collections, it raises insurmountable difficulties. Why was the verse omitted from the Qur`an? If its omission was an accident, why would not Muslim leaders restore the verse to the Qur`anic text when its absence from the Qur`an was noticed? If, as some other narrations tell us, people thought that addition to the Book of God was not permissible in his eyes, surely he must have thought the same about omission. Hence he was duty bound to restore the missing verse. One cannot say that the verse was "suppressed" by the higher authority of the Prophet that ‘Umar could not overturn; for, why would the Prophet suppress the verse while allowing the practice laid down by it to continue? Some traditions tell us that ‘Umar feared that the absence of the verse from the Qur`an would make people ignore a divine injunction. Why did he not prevent this from happening by adding the verse to the Qur`an where it belonged? The verse could not have been forgotten by the whole Muslim ummah. In the time of ‘Umar there were still alive many hundreds of the Prophet's Companions who, we are told in some narrations, used to recite the verse and memorise it.

Supporters of al-rajm never really deal with the above questions in any satisfactory way. For example, Ibn Kathir quotes many of the traditions about the stoning “verse” and seems to accept the idea of such a verse but does not raise any of the relevant and important questions mentioned above, much less give some sensible answers to them. Some scholars have come up with the concept of two types of abrogated verses  mansukh al-tilawah (abrogated in respect to recitation) and mansukh al-‘amal (abrogated in respect to practice). It is said that the verse about stoning was mansukh al-tilawah and not mansukh al-‘amal. But coining such new technical terms does nothing to reduce the extreme weakness of the idea of a verse that was in pracitce but was omitted from the Qur`an.

It seems that some supporters of stoning are aware of the difficulties pointed out above and so they choose to ignore the “stoning verse”. Thus in his justification of the stoning penalty Shafi‘i does not at all refer to any tradition about the “stoning verse”. Mawdudi quotes some narrations of hadith attributed to ‘Umar but does not in any way use them to justify his support of al-rajm. For him they are simply an addition to the ahadith about al-rajm and serve to embelish the evidence for it. Moreover, many narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith state that pregnancy can by itself provide proof of zina` but a majority of the supporters of al-rajm, including Shafi‘i and Mawdudi, reject that view. 

One may ask: if the idea of a verse about stoning, omitted from the Qur`an and banned from recitation in the daily prayers but still practiced is as absurd as we have suggested, then how could it find its way in our best Hadith collections and be accepted widely? This question ignores the fact that given right circumstances completely wrong ideas can develop and get accepted by a vast majority of people, including some very learned persons. Take for example the Christian belief in the Trinity. This belief has no basis in the teaching of Jesus, his eyewitness disciples, the gospels, other books of the Bible, or rational thought. Yet at one point it became a dominant idea in Christendom and is still professed by a majority of the church-going Christians, including some very learned ones. 

In view of the weaknesses of the idea of a missing verse on stoning pointed out above, we need an extremely solid proof that this idea indeed was expressed by a man of such caliber as ‘Umar al-Faruq. Let us examine the various traditions more closely to see if such proof is forthcoming. Our examination of these traditions, like that of other ahadith on al-rajm in Part II, is of necessity somewhat technical, detailed, and therefore seemingly complex. A reader who wants to discover the true Sunnah of our beloved Prophet for himself/herself must go through such examination of ahadith. It is like if you want to understand for yourself phenomena of nature, you much be prepared to follow science with some of its complex experiments, equations and theories. 

We begin our examination with, and focus primarily on, ‘Umar’s hadith, which alone has some credibility with the muhaddithun. Later, we will also briefly consider other traditions about the stoning verse. 

 

 

A) ‘Umar’s hadith

 

This hadith comes in many narrations. Our examination of it, like that of any hadith, must necessarily involve both the asanid and the contents of its various narrations. This examination shows that this hadith is a gharib[1] hadith with “hidden defects”[2] and therefore according to established criteria of the science of Hadith is not reliable.

 

NARRATIONS’ ASANID

 

Below is a list of all the asanid that my search of the Hadith Encyclopedia for the narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith produced. In this list a later narrator is written first. The asanid having in common the same narrators in the first few generations are grouped together with names of common narrators indicated in color once at the end of the group. Other narrators common in asanid are also shown in color. 

 

Malik 1295 --

Darimi 2219 – Khalid bin Makhlad – Malik --

Ahmad 265 – ‘Abd al-Rahman – Malik

Ahmad 368 – Ishaq bin ‘Isa al-Tabba– Malik --

Bukhari 6327 – ‘Ali bin ‘Abd Allah – Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah

Muslim 3201 (note) – Zahir bin Harb -- Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah

                      – Muhammad bin YahyaSufyan bin ‘Uyaynah

                      – Abu Bakr bin Abi Shaybah – Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah

Ibn Majah 2543 – Abu Bakr bin Abi Shaybah – Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah

                        -- Muhammad bin Sabbah --Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah

Muslim 3201    --Ahmad bin ‘Amr -- ‘Abd Allah – Yunus bin Yazid

                        -- Harmalah bin Yahya --‘Abd Allah – Yunus bin Yazid

Bukhari 6778 – Musa bin Isma‘il – ‘Abd al-Wahid – Ma ‘mar

Tirmidhi 1352 – Salamah bin Shabib – Ma‘mar

                        --Ishaq bin Mansur  Ma‘mar

                        --Al-Hasan bin ‘Ali  Ma‘mar

Ahmad 313     -- ‘Abd al-Razzaq -- Ma‘mar

Bukhari 6328 – ‘Abd al-‘Aziz bin ‘Abd Allah – Ibrahim bin Sa‘d – Salih –

Abu Da`ud 3835 – ‘Abd Allah bin Muhammad al-Nufayli – Hushaym --

Ibn Shihab – ‘Ubayd Allah – Ibn ‘Abbas [‘Ubayd Allah’s full name is ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Utbah bin Mas‘ud (d. 98)]

Ibn Ishaq        -- ‘Abd Allah bin Abi Bakr –

Ahmad 192 – Hushaym –

Ibn Shihab – ‘Ubayd Allah – Ibn ‘Abbas – ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘‘Awf

Ahmad 333-   Muhammad bin Ja‘far Shu‘bah

                        Hajjaj – Shu‘bah

Sa‘d bin Ibrahim – ‘Ubayd Allah – Ibn ‘Abbas – ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf

Ahmad 151-- Hushaym –

                                    Ali bin Zayd -- Yusuf bin Mihran -- Ibn ‘Abbas

Malik 1297 –

Ahmad 241—Yahya bin Sa‘id bin Farukh --

Ahmad 285—Yazid –

Yahya bin Sa‘id bin Qays -- Ibn al-Musayyab

Tirmidhi 1351– Ahmad bin Mani‘ – Ishaq bin Yusuf al-Azraq –

Da`ud bin Abi Hind -- Ibn al-Musayyab 

 

From the above list we see:

 

n      Four fourth-generation narrators, Malik, Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah, Yunus bin Yazid, and Ma‘mar can be reached with multiple chains of transmitters and each of these four narrators quote the hadith from al-Zuhri with the same isnad. Hence ‘Umar’s hadith can be taken back to Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri with a very high degree of confidence.

n      All narrations from Ibn Shihab quote ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Utbah, a Successor.

n      Only in one narration someone other than Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri quotes ‘Ubayd Allah. This is Sa‘d bin Ibrahim (d. 125) in Musnad Ahmad (333). But, as we shall see, there is some evidence that Ahmad 192 also came from this same narrator, who was by mistake replaced by al-Zuhri. If so, there is some probability that Sa‘d bin Ibrahim also narrated ‘Umar’s hadith.

n      Three asanid also reach Yahya bin Sa‘id who narrates the hadith from Ibn al-Musayyab, a Successor. Another third-generation narrator Da`ud bin Abi Hind is also said to narrate it from Ibn al-Musayyab, making it probable that Ibn al-Musayyab too transmitted the tradition. But Ibn al-Musayyab did not hear[3] ‘Umar and even the narrations attributed to him do not pretend that he had first hand knowledge of ‘Umar’s hadith.

n      There is one narration in Musnad Ahmad (151) with an isnad independent of Ibn Shihab, Sa‘d bin Ibrahim, ‘Ubayd Allah, and Ibn al-Musayyab. It is narrated from Yusuf bin Mihran about whom we know next to nothing, which, together with other facts to be presented later, makes it much weaker than the other narrations. We can use it only to corroborate conclusions based on other narrations.

 

In view of the above comments, there is almost complete certainty that ‘Umar’s hadith was transmitted by Ibn Shihab (d. 125), who belongs to the third[4] generation of narrators. There is also some probability that two Successors Ibn al-Musayyab (d. 93) and ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Utbah (d. 98) narrated the hadith. 

When we move back in time to the Companions, things become very uncertain. In many narrations ‘Ubayd Allah transmits the tradition from  Ibn ‘Abbas as if Ibn ‘Abbas himself was the witness to ‘Umar’s khutbah. However, in two narrations Ibn ‘Abbas narrates the tradition on the authority of ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf as follows:

 

Ahmad 192 – Hushaym –

Ibn Shihab – ‘Ubayd Allah – Ibn ‘Abbas – ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘‘Awf

Ahmad 333-   Muhammad bin Ja ‘far – Shu ‘bah –

                        Hajjaj – Shu ‘bah –

Sa‘d bin Ibrahim – ‘Ubayd Allah – Ibn ‘Abbas – ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘‘Awf

In Ibn Ishaq also Ibn ‘Abbas mentions “‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf informed me”, although Ibn ‘Abbas himself is the speaker in his narration. 

Even if we ignore the confusion between the role of Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf in the transmission of the hadith, it remains problematic that only one of these two transmitted the tradition. According to many narrations ‘Umar spoke in a  public khutbah that must have been attended by a large number of Muslims including numerous Companions. Why then it is only one person in the whole gathering who has transmitted the tradition to us? We could attribute this to chance except that exactly the same problem arises in the second and third generations. Numerous Successors have transmitted traditions from Ibn ‘Abbas. Why only ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Utbah and an unknown narrator Yusuf bin Mihran transmit this tradition from him? ‘Ubayd Allah himself had at least 22 known students. Why only Ibn Shihab, and possibly Sa‘d bin Ibrahim transmit from him? Why do we not see several asanid reaching ‘Ubayd Allah, Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Umar like we see several asanid reaching Sufyan, Ma‘mar, and Ibn Shihab? 

It is true that as time passes a tradition gets spread and more and more narrators transmit it. But still at the earlier stages of transmission we should expect some mulitiplicity of transmitters, especially in case of a tradition that reports a public address by the leader of the whole Muslim world on a matter of some religious importance. 

It is also very strange that ‘Umar remains the only Companion to talk about the stoning verse in a vast majority of books. This fact strongly suggests that for quite sometime the stoning verse and ‘Umar were uniquely tied to each other. Indeed, in one of the traditions it is assumed that ‘Umar was the only one who knew about the stoning verse:

 

[It is reported by] Ibn Abi Shaybah, concerning al-masahif, from al-Layth bin Sa‘d who said: The first to collect the Qur`an was Abu Bakr and Zayd bin Thabit wrote it. And people came to Zayd bin Thabit (with the portions of the Qur`an) but Zayd did not write anything (in the Qur`an) except with the testimony of two reliable witnesses. The last part of Surah Bara`ah was not found except with Khuzaymah bin Thabit. He said, “Write it, for the Messenger of God had declared the testimony of Khuzaymah equivalent to that of two men.” So he wrote it. And ‘Umar came with the verse of stoning but Zayd would not write it because ‘Umar was alone (in his testimony) (Al-Suyuti as quoted in ‘Awn al-Ma‘bud 3130)

 

According to this story, in the time of Abu Bakr when the Qur`an was reportedly collected no one knew about the stoning verse or no one remembered it except ‘Umar. This story is absent from all of the nine collections of Hadith covered in the Hadith Encyclopedia and does not even have complete isnad. Furthermore, as we shall see later it is in conflict with several other stories. There is therefore no likelihood that it is telling us an historical incident. Yet even fictions have some history in them. In this story, the history is that even in the time of Layth bin Sa‘d (d. 175) it was assumed by some narrators of ahadith that traditions about the stoning verse all went back only to ‘Umar: no other Companion talked about the verse. This is a powerful argument against the very idea of a stoning verse, since such a verse or, at least its existence, is expected to be known to a large number of senior Companions. 

Our examination of the asanid of ‘Umar’s hadith suggests the approximate time when the hadith was fabricated: As noted above the asanid show that the hadith can be take back with some probability only to the time of ‘Ubayd Allah and Ibn al-Musayyab. Now both of these Successors died in or after 93 and those who transmitted from them -- al-Zuhri, Yahya bin Sa‘id etc -- died in or after 124. ‘Ubayd Allah and Ibn al-Musayyab therefore could not have transmitted the hadith to the third-generation narrators too much earlier than 75. If we allow a couple of decades for the hadith to gain wide enough circulation for ‘Ubayd Allah and Ibn al-Musayyab to start quoting it, then we can date it somewhere between 50-80. 

Our examination of the contents of the narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith leads to a very significant result which may be stated at tht outset: not all narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith talk about a missing Qur`anic verse about stoning. In fact, narrations that do not refer to such a verse have much more varied asanid than those that refer to it (see Table 1 presented further below). This result is significant because it strongly suggests that ‘Umar’s hadith originally did not talk about the stoning verse. Once again it is possible to approximately date when the reference to a stoning verse was introduced in ‘Umar’s hadith: The earliest narrator who can be said with confidence to have included this reference in his narration of ‘Umar’s hadith is al-Zuhri who died in 124 or 125. Allowing a few decades for the reference to gain some circulation, we can date it between 95 and 115.

 

NARRATIONS’ CONTENTS

 

Our examination of the contents of the narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith leads to a very significant result which may be stated at tht outset: not all narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith talk about a missing Qur`anic verse about stoning. In fact, narrations that do not refer to such a verse have much more varied asanid than those that refer to it (see Table 1 presented further below). This result is significant because it strongly suggests that ‘Umar’s hadith originally did not talk about the stoning verse. Once again it is possible to approximately date when the reference to a stoning verse was introduced in ‘Umar’s hadith: The earliest narrator who can be said with confidence to have included this reference in his narration of ‘Umar’s hadith is al-Zuhri who died in 124 or 125. Allowing a few decades for the reference to gain some circulation, we can date it between 95 and 115. 

Let us now examine the contents of the narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith. One of these narrations is attributed to Yusuf bin Mihran while the rest are said to come from ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Utbah or from Ibn al-Musayyab. One of the narrations from ‘Ubayd Allah comes from Sa‘d bin Ibrahim while the rest come from Ibn Shihab. One of the narrations from Ibn al-Musayyab comes from Da`ud bin Abi Hind while others come from Yahya bin Sa‘id. We can therefore discuss the various narrations under the following categories:

 

1) Narrations from Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri from ‘Ubayd Allah

2) A narration from Sa‘d bin Ibrahim from ‘Ubayd Allah

3) A narration from Yusuf bin Mihran

4) Narrations from Yahya bin Sa‘id from Ibn al-Musayyab

5) A narration from Da`ud bin Abi Hind from Ibn al-Musayyab

 

 

1) Narrations from Ibn Shihab from ‘Ubayd Allah

 

The narrations of this category are found in many books but they are all very similar to those found in Sirah Rasul Allah of Ibn Ishaq (as quoted by Ibn Hisham), Muwatta of Malik, and Bukhari. We will, therefore, focus on the narrations in these three books, with other books being used to provide additional evidence for the conclusions reached.

 

Ibn Ishaq’s narration

 

Ibn Ishaq knew Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri and received many traditions from him. But this particular tradition he does not receive directly from him but indirectly through ‘Abd Allah bin Abi Bakr [d. 135]. His isnad is: ‘Abd Allah bin Abi Bakr told me from Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri from ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Utbah from Ibn ‘Abbas who said, ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf informed me.. 

Ibn Ishaq’s narration is part of a long khutbah that ‘Umar delivers on a Friday night after he returned to Madinah from his last hajj. The stage for the speech is reportedly set by Ibn ‘Abbas as follows:

I was waiting for ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf in his station in Mina while he was with ‘Umar during the last hajj that ‘Umar performed. When he returned he found me waiting, for I was teaching him to read the Qur`an. Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘Abd al-Rahman said to me, "Would that you had seen the man who came to the Chief of the Believers [that is, ‘Umar], saying, ‘O Chief of the Believers! How would you like a man who says, 'By God, if ‘Umar should die, I will give the pledge of allegiance to such-and-such a person, as the pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr was nothing but a prompt sudden action which got established’.”

‘Umar wanted to stand before the people and speak on the issue, but on the advice of ‘Abd al-Rahman he postpones it till his return to Madinah. There he sat on the pulpit and after due glorification of God said:

 

God sent Muhammad with the truth and sent down the Book to him. Part of what God sent down was the verse of al-rajm; we recited it, we were taught it, and we memorized it. God’s Messenger did carry out stoning and so did we after him. I am afraid that with the passage of time people will say that they find no mention of al-rajm in God's Book and thus they will go astray by leaving an obligation sent down by God. Surely, al-rajm in the Book of God is laid on married men and women who commit zina` if there is direct evidence (of witnesses) or conception or confession. We also used to recite as part of the recitation of God's book: ‘Do not desire to have anscestors other than your own as it is kufr (disbelief or unthankfulness) to do so.’  Beware! The Messenger of God did say, ‘Do not praise me excessively as Jesus, son of Marry was praised, so call me God's slave and his messenger.’ 

The speech then continues with the political issues that motivated it in the first place (Ibn Ishaq as quoted in Ibn Hisham, p. 898-899). 

Substantially the same narration is also found in Bukhari (6327; see also 6778) and Ahmad (368) [5] with different asanid, showing that the narration does come from al-Zuhri. 

There are many weaknesses in the narration. 

First, notice the statement that Ibn ‘Abbas [d. 68] was teaching ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf to read the Qur`an. This is hard to believe since ‘Abd al-Rahman [d. about 32] was a senior Companion who was among the six persons ‘Umar nominated as a possible choice for khalifah after him[6]. This part of the narration is also called into question by the fact, noted earlier, that in some narrations Ibn ‘Abbas actually learns this tradition from ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘‘Awf:

 

Hushaym related to us: al-Zuhri related to us from ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Utbah bin Mas‘ud: ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Abbas informed me: ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf related to me that ‘Umar bin al-Khattab addressed the people and he heard him say: 

Beware of people who say what is al-rajm? (Is not) in the Book of God (there is only) flogging? The Messenger of God indeed carried out al-rajm and we carried it out after him. Were it not that talkers will talk and speakers will speak saying that ‘Umar added to the Book of God what is not part of it, I will have written it as it was sent down (Ahmad 192). 

Second, the alleged verse that desiring ancestors other than one’s own is kufr is found in Muslim as a hadith (1/161) without any indication of a missing verse to that effect. The reference to this missing verse about ancestors, moreover, is not found in most other narrations and so it is probably a later addition. But then if additions could be made to a tradition in this way, the reliability of the transmission process is compromised. In particular, it is possible that the reference to stoning was also added later to the khutbah of ‘Umar, a possibility that increases in likelihood when we notice that this reference comes up abruptly in the khutbah. 

 

Third, the statement that “part of what God sent down was the verse of  al-rajm” is almost exclusively found in the narrations of al-Zuhri. The reference to the stoning verse is absent in almost all the other narrations, at least in this unambiguous form. This suggests that al-Zuhri heard the idea of the stoning verse from some unknown source and made it a part of ‘Umar’s hadith. 

Fourth, the argument that al-rajm is not Islamic because it is not mentioned in the Book of God is first attributed to the Khawarij who came after ‘Umar in the time of ‘Ali. While I do not deny that a strong believer like ‘Umar could sometimes foresee the future, yet there is also a very real possibility that in the tradition under consideration later developments are being projected back in the time of ‘Umar. That is, some decades after ‘Umar someone is responding to the arguments of the Khawarij by putting his own words in ‘Umar’s mouth. 

Fifth, in this narration ‘Umar, long after the death of the Prophet says that “the Prophet stoned”. Yet Ibn Ishaq mentions none of the many stories of stoning of Muslims[7] by the Prophet as part of the biography of the Prophet that he is writing. The story of a Companion of the Prophet such as the man of Aslam (Ma‘iz) or the woman of Ghamid committing zina` and then being stoned to death would have left a mark on the people of Madinah. People recalling the events that took place during Prophet’s life and those collecting those events afterwards are expected to remember and narrate or at least allude to some of these stories. But Ibn Ishaq does not do so. 

Sixth, there are numerous traditions about the collection of the Qur`an and the efforts made in the time of the first three khulafa` to preserve the Qur`anic text. During the process of such “collection” we expect some questions to be raised about the stoning “verse”, e.g., why it is not in the Qur`an and whether it should be restored to it. But in earlier accounts of the collection of the Qur`an such questions are never raised. Only in very late and isolated traditions, suffering from many weaknesses and not considered reliable by a vast majority of muhaddithun, are such questions encountered and very inadequately answered.

 

Malik’s narration

Malik related to me from Ibn Shihab from ‘Ubayd Allah ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Utbah ibn Mas‘ud that ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas said: I heard ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab say:

al-rajm in the Book of God is justly laid on any married men and women who commit zina` if there is direct evidence (of witnesses) or pregnancy (al-habal) or confession" (Muwatta 41/8).

This narration is at least as reliable as that of Ibn Ishaq. For, although Ibn Ishaq [d. 151] wrote his book before Malik [d. 179] wrote his, this particular hadith is received by Malik directly from al-Zuhri [d. 125] while, as noted earlier, Ibn Ishaq received it indirectly throung ‘Abd Allah bin Abi Bakr [d. 135]. 

This narration does not refer to the existence of a stoning “verse” in the Qur`an[8]. The words “al-rajm in the Book of God” may suggest such a reference but this is far from being necessary. For, in the first place, Bukhari’s narration (see below) does not contain the words “in the Book of God” and therefore it is not certain that these words were a part of the original narration of al-Zuhri. And, in the second place, even if the reference to the Book of God is original, it is not necessary that the reference is to the Qur`an. To be in the Book of God can also mean to be a part of the divine law given through the Sunnah/Hadith or even through earlier revelations. This is supported by the fact that the narration talks about proof by pregnancy, which is not mentioned in the Qur`an or any allegedly missing verse in the Qur`an. Similarly, in the story of the stoning of an employer’s wife to be discussed in detail in Chapter 9, it is said that the Prophet ordered, according to the Book of God, that the unmarried man who committed zina` with her be exiled and given 100 lashes, but the Qur`an nowhere mentions exile as a punishment for zina`. 

At first sight it appears to be a reasonable hypothesis that Muwatta’s narration has focused entirely on one saying (“al-rajm in the Book of God is justly laid …”) in ‘Umar’s khutbah, that is, it is a drastically shortened form of al-Zuhri’s long narration. If so, it is unlikely that Malik shortened the narration, since a similar narration with a different isnad is also found in Bukhari (see below). But there is a strong indication that the saying is not extracted from the long version but represents a separate tradition that al-Zuhri sometimes narrated separately and sometimes as a part of ‘Umar’s hadith. This indication is provided by the fact that the saying is found only in al-Zuhri’s narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith. If it were part of ‘Umar’s hadith from the beginning, we expect to find in some other narrations, which is not the case. As we shall see later, al-Zuhri has been criticized by some of his contemporaries to attribute narrations to a Successor without personally hearing from him and also to put together narrations from different unknown sources to produce a longer narration. 

 

Bukhari’s narrations

 

Bukhari gives three narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith: 6327, 6328, 6778. The first of these is very similar to Ibn Ishaq’s narration. The third also seems to be a short form[9] of the narration used by Ibn Ishaq. The second is a slight variation of Muwatta’s narration, as we now show.

 

The narration (Bukhari 6328) reads:

 

 ‘Ali bin ‘Abd Allah related to us: Sufyan related to us from al-Zuhri from ‘Ubayd Allah from Ibn ‘Abbas who said:

‘Umar said: I am afraid that after a long time has passed, people may say, ‘We do not find al-rajm in the Book of God,’ and consequently they may go astray by leaving an obligation that God has sent down. Beware! Surely, al-rajm is justly laid on whoever commits zina` and is married and there is direct evidence (of witnesses) or  pregnancy (al-haml) or confession. "

The narration is followed by two notes:

Sufyan added, "I have memorized (this narration) in this way." (‘Umar also) said, "Surely God’s Messenger carried out the penalty of al-rajm, and so did we after him."  (Bukhari 6327).

The natural way to understand Sufyan’s words, “I memorized this narration in this way”, is that they mark the end of his narration. The additional words attributed to ‘Umar (“Surely God’s Messenger carried out … ") were therefore not part of Sufyan’s narration but were added as a note from some other source. Sufyan’s narration like that of Malik thus focused on ‘Umar’s saying about the rules of evidence (“Surely, al-rajm is justly laid on whoever commits zina` … pregnancy or confession”). Al-rajm was justified only on the basis of this saying. There was no mention of the Sunnah of the Prophet and his Companions or of a missing verse about stoning. Unlike the narration of Muwatta it is not even said that “al-rajm is justly laid in the Book of God”; it is only said that “al-rajm is justly laid” without any reference to the Book of God. 

We may see a hint about the stoning “verse” in the description of al-rajm as an obligation that “God has sent down”. But, as we noted earlier, rules considered part of the Shari‘ah can be said to be in the Book of God even if they are not found in the Qur`anic text. Similary, rules can be said to be “sent down by God” even if they are not part of the Qur`anic revelation. In  this narration ‘Umar’s ijtihad is considered a valid source of Islamic Shari‘ah and so it is said to sent down by God. 

Moreover, narrators frequently express earlier traditions in their own words, often influenced by their understanding of those traditions. Thus the particular narration under consideration might have been influenced by some narrator’s assumption that it refers to a stoning verse, an assumption that might have led him to use the words “sent down”. It is certainly true that other narrations express ‘Umar’s words differently:

 

            I fear that there will come groups who will not find [al-rajm] in the Book of God and so will reject it. (Tirmidhi 1351)

 

Here al-rajm is not described as an “obligation God has sent down”. In Ibn Majah there is a narration from Sufyan that also uses somewhat different words:

 

I indeed fear that as time passes someone will say, I do not find al-rajm in the Book of God and thus people are led astray by abandoning an obligation from among the obligations of God. (Ibn Majah 2543) [10]

 

Hence we conclude that Bukhari 6328, like Malik’s narration, does not assume a missing stoning verse and focuses on the saying about the rules of evidence.

 

Our discussion of al-Zuhri’s narrations further shows:

 

n      The saying about rules of evidence represents a separate tradition that was introduced into ‘Umar’s hadith by al-Zuhri. This is because the saying is found only in al-Zuhri’s narrations.

n      For the same reason, the saying “part of what God sent down was the verse of al-rajm” was also not found in the earliest version of ‘Umar’s hadith. It was added later by al-Zuhri.

n      We can therefore get much closer to the earliest form of ‘Umar’s hadith by omitting the two above-mentioned sayings. This leads us to the version:

 

God’s Messenger did carry out stoning and so did we after him. I am afraid that with the passage of time people will say that they find no mention of al-rajm in God's Book and thus they will go astray by leaving an obligation sent down by God.

 

 

2) A narration from Sa ‘d bin Ibrahim from ‘Ubayd Allah 

 

Muhammad bin Ja‘far and Hajjaj related to us: Shu‘bah related to us from Sa‘d bin Ibrahim who said: I heard ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Utbah relate from Ibn ‘Abbas from ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘‘Awf who said: 

‘Umar performed hajj and intended to address the people. ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf said (to ‘Umar), All kinds of riffraff (ra‘a‘) have gathered around you (in the season of hajj), so delay it till you go to Madinah. When he arrived in Madinah, I sat close to him near the minbar and I heard him say: 

There are people who say, What is this al-rajm when in the Book of God there is only flogging? The Messenger of God stoned and we stoned after him. Were it not that they will say I have inscribed in the Book of God what is not there, I would have inscribed it as it was sent down. (Ahmad 333). 

Notice that the two sayings that we identified above as al-Zuhri’s additions to ‘Umar’s hadith are not to be found in this narration. There are no rules of evidence and there is nothing like the explicit reference to the stoning verse that we find in some of al-Zuhri’s narrations. The stoning verse is not even implicitly assumed here. When ‘Umar says that he “would have inscribed it” in the Book of God “as it was sent down” [11], the meaning is not that he would have restored to the Qur`an a verse that was once there and is now missing. Rather, the meaning is that he would have written in the Qur`an a statement about al-rajm that was not there. The statement that people will accuse ‘Umar of adding to the Book of God “what is not there” is in fact an admission that the Qur`an never contained anything about stoning. 

Although there is only one chain that reaches Sa‘d bin Ibrahim, there are grounds to think that Ahmad 192[12], said to be transmitted by al-Zuhri, was originally also transmistted by Sa‘d[13], which provides another chain reaching Sa‘d and thus increases the probability that Sa‘d did transmit ‘Umar’s hadith in the name of ‘Ubayd Allah, which in turn increases the probability that ‘Ubayd Allah transmitted the hadith in some form.

 

 

3) A narration from Yusuf bin Mihran

The narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith are dominated in our sources by those from al-Zuhri from ‘Ubayd Allah and to a lesser extent by those from Ibn al-Musayyab. But there is one narration that is transmitted independenetly of these narrators. This narration is weak[14] by traditional standards, but sill it is significant that it also does not refer to the stoning verse. 

Hushaym related to us: ‘Ali bin Zayd told us from Yusuf bin Mihran from Ibn ‘Abbas who said: 

‘Umar bin al-Khattab gave a sermon (khataba, at one time Hushaym said khataba na), he glorified God and then mentioned al-rajm, saying: 

Do not be deceived about it. It is one of the hudud ordained by God. Beware! The Messenger of God carried out al-rajm and we carried it out after him. Were it not that some talkers would say that ‘Umar has added in the Book of God what is not a part of it, I would have written it in the margin of the mushaf

 

‘Umar bin al-Khattab testifies (at one time Hushaym said: ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf and so-and-so testify”) that the Messenger of God did indeed carry out stoning and we carried it out after him.

 

Beware that after you there will come people who will reject al-rajm, al-Dajjal, intercession, the punishment in the grave, and being taken out of hell after being burnt (for a period) (Ahmad 151, also recorded by al-Bayhaqi). 

Here stoning is described as one of the hudud ordained by God and then immediately it is said: “The Messenger of God carried out stoning and we carried it out after him”. This means that the hadd of al-rajm is ordained by God not through a verse in the Qur`an but the Sunnah of the Prophet and the khulafa`. Once again what ‘Umar would like to do is not to restore to the Qur`an a verse that was once a part of it but to add in a margin a statement about al-rajm that was never a part of it. This point is particularly clear in this narration, as may be seen from the following two observations:

 

n      We are explicitly told what ‘Umar would like to add and this is not a Qur`anic verse. Rather, it is a testimony that “the Messenger of God indeed carried out stoning and we carried it out after him.”

n      We are told that ‘Umar would make the addition in a “margin”. This seems to be an admission that no stoning “verse” belonged to the main text. 

Notice that the part about al-rajm in this narration is almost identical in meaning to the narration (Ahmad 333) of Sa‘d bin Ibrahmin from ‘Ubayd Allah discussed above. 

 

4) Narrations from Yahya bin Sa‘id from Ibn al-Musayyab

In this category, there is one detailed narration in Muwatta and two short ones in Musnad Ahmad. A narration very close to the one in Muwatta is also found in Tabaqat of Ibn Sa‘d (3/116-7).

Malik’s narration

Like the long narration of al-Zuhri in Ibn Ishaq, the narration in Muwatta from Yahya[15] ibn Sa‘id is also presented in the context of a khutbah that ‘Umar delivered in Madinah after his last hajj. But the background of the khutbah is quite different in this narration than in Ibn Ishaq.

Malik related to me that Yahya ibn Sa‘id heard Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab say:

When ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab came from Mina, he made his camel kneel at al-Abtah, and then he gathered a pile of small stones and cast his cloak over them and dropped to the ground. Then he raised his hands to the sky and said, “O God! I have become old and my strength has reduced. My flock is scattered. Take me to you with nothing missed out and without having neglected anything.” Then he arrived in Madinah and addressed the people.

Here there is none of the controversy that we find in Ibn Ishaq about how Abu Bakr was chosen khalifah and how someone wanted to repeat history by giving pledge of allegiance to his favorite leader. There is also no intention on the part of ‘Umar to address the people immediately, an intention that he changed on the advice of ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf. The whole story is completely different here, suggesting that we cannot fully trust in the transmission process that led to the formation of the narration of Yahya ibn Sa‘id or that of Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, although, as we shall see, Yahya’s narration is a bit more coherent and understandable than al-Zuhri’s, in which it is extremely difficult to see why ‘Umar abrubptly starts talking about al-rajm.

After giving the background, the Muwatta then continues:

He said, “O People! Sunan have been established for you and obligations have been placed upon you. You have been left with a clear way unless you lead people astray right and left.' He struck one of his hands on the other and then said …

This part provides a clue to the whole objective of the khutbah. This objective is to stress the importance of the established sunan that some people ignored because of their focus on the Qur`an. Later we shall see that ‘Umar himself focused on the Qur`an and not on the Sunnah, which in any case had not taken in his time the elaborate form that it came to assume in the time of Yahya ibn Sa‘id and al-Zuhri.

The narration continues with a special mention of al-rajm. Unlike the narration of al-Zuhri, where the talk of al-rajm appears abruptly and without any rhyme or reason, in this narration the mention of al-rajm is understandable. For, al-rajm is where the tension between the Qur`an and what became Sunnah gets most clearly and intensely manifested. Hence anyone stressing the importance of sunan around the turn of the first century, when the controversy about al-rajm was still alive would understandably refer to this penalty.  

“Take care lest you are destroyed because of the verse of stoning (tahliku ‘an `ayah al-rajm[16]) and lest someone says, we do not find two penalties in the Book of God. The Messenger of God carried out stoning and we carried it out. By the one in whose hand my soul is, had it not been that people would say that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab has added to the Book of God, I would have written it:

as for al-shaykh and al-shaykhah stone them both outright (al-shaykh wa al-shaykhah fa arjimuhuma al-battatah)

We certainly recited it ( fa inna qad qara`na ha)."

 

The narration concludes with some comments by the narrators:

Malik said: Yahya ibn Sa‘id said: Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab said: “Dhu al-Hijjah had not passed before ‘Umar was murdered. May God have mercy on him." Yahya said that he had heard Malik say, "As for his word al-shaykh wa al-shaykhah … it meant, al-thayyab wa al-thayyabah fa arjimuhuma al-battatah.” (Muwatta 1297).

In the whole narration there is no indication that Ibn al-Musayyab personally heard ‘Umar, which is consistent with the fact that Ibn al-Musayyab was at most a child when ‘Umar died. He may, therefore, be simply relating a tradiition that was circulating among the people like so many other traditions including many fabricated ones. It is not even necessary that he fully accepted it, since people often relate or use traditions that they do not necessarily fully accept..

Before we look more closely at the words about al-rajm attributed to ‘Umar in Malik’s narration, let us compare them with the two other narrations available to us.

Ahmad’s narrations

Ahmad reports the following two shorter narrations:

Yahya (ibn Sa‘id bin Farukh) related to us from Yahya ibn Sa‘id who said: I heard Sa‘id bin al-Musayyab say that

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said: “Take care lest you are destroyed on account of the verse of stoning (saying) we do not find two penalties in the Book of God. I have seen the Messenger of God; he did carry out al-rajm and so did we.” (Ahmad 241)

Yazid related to us: Yahya (ibn Sa‘id) told us from Sa‘id bin al-Musayyab that

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said: “Take care lest you are destroyed on account of the verse of stoning and lest someone says, we do not find two penalties in the Book of God. I have seen the Messenger of God carry out al-rajm and so did we after him.” (Ahmad  285)

In these two nearly identical narrations there is no reference to any khutbah by ‘Umar. This may be because Yahya ibn Sa‘id might have at times narrated only the part about stoning. So let us compare the two narrations with the part about stoning in Malik’s narration. This comparison shows that all three narrations are very close except for the following additional part in Muwatta which is not found in Ahmad’s narrations:

By the one in whose hand my soul is, had it not been that people would say that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab has added to the Book of God, I would have written it:

as for al-shaykh and al-shaykhah stone them both outright (al-shaykh wa al-shaykhah fa arjimuhuma al-battatah)

We certainly recited it ( fa inna qad qara`na ha)."

The fact that we have two narrations, with two different chains reaching Yahya ibn Sa‘id,  that do not contain this part raises doubt whether the part was included in the original narration of Yahya. This justifies looking at the interpretation of Yahya’s narration with and without this part.

Without the additional part, the narration does not refer to the existence of a stoning verse in the Qur`an. The words “destroyed on account of the stoning verse” do not require us to infer such an existence, since they are best understood in terms of the subsequent words, “we do not find two penalties in the Book of God” -- we only find flogging but not al-rajm. That is, it is best to under the words “destroyed on account of the stoning verse” in the sense “destroyed because of a lack of a verse about stoning in the Qur`an” and not in the sense “destroyed because there was a verse about stoning in the Qur`an, which was then removed”. The idea is the same as in other narrations, in which ‘Umar reportedly says that he feared people will neglect a divine injunction on the grounds the injunction about stoning is not found in the Qur`an. We can paraphrase the meaning of the narration as follows: Do not destroy yourselves by neglecting the injunction of stoning on the grounds that there is no verse in the Qur`an about stoning, that is, by saying that the Qur`an mentions only flogging for zina` and not stoning. For, the Prophet and those succeeding him applied the stoning penalty, which establishes it as a sunnah and hence as a divine commandment.

This interpretation presents us with a complete and coherent thought. It uses the sunnah to justify the stoning penalty and does not require reference to a verse about stoning that once upon a time existed in the Qur`an. This appeal to the sunnah as the basis for the stoning penalty is in fact much earlier than the appeal to a stoning verse, as is shown by the following facts:

i)                    The appeal to the sunnah is found in almost all narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith whereas the appeal to the stoning verse occurs almost exclusively to the narrations from al-Zuhri (see Table 1 presented further below).

ii)                   One of the earliest references to al-rajm is found in a document called Sirah Salim bin Dhakwan and this reference also only appeals to the sunnah. Thus in a criticism of the Azariqah, a group of Khawarij, the document states:

They reject stoning when the Messenger of God did stone a man of Aslam[17] and the sunnah was thereby established.

 

Comments on the additional part. The following words in this part

 

“…had it not been that people would say that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab has added to the Book of God, I would have written it

 

are often found in the narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith without any specfication as to what is “it” that ‘Umar would like to write in the Qur`an and therefore “it” can be any statement justifying al-rajm and not necessarily a verse that allegedly once existed  in the Qur`an. Earlier we saw that in the narration of Yusuf bin Mihran “it” was understood to be a testimony to the effect that al-rajm is a sunnah of the Prophet and his khulafa`. In the narration under consideration “it” refers to the statement “al-shaykh wa al-shaykhah fa arjimuhuma al-battatah”. Only the the phrase, “we certainly recited it (fa inna qad qara`na ha),” which could have been added later, suggests that the statement should be understood as the missing stoning verse. Without this phrase, it would be possible to understand the statement as a hadith[18] or even a composition of ‘Umar[19] that he would have liked to add in the Qur`an in order to support stoning, especially in view of the fact that the language used in the statement is not too Qur`anic: The words shaykhah and al-battatah are not used anywhere in the Qur`an and shaykh is not used in the way it is used in the statement. In any case, whether or not the statement is understood as the missing stoning “verse” it is highly problematic. It conflicts not only with the Qur`an but also with the Islamic law as formulated by the supporters of al-rajm.

 

The word al-shaykh/al-shaykhah properly means a man/woman who has reached an age when the hair become grey or who has achieved mastery of something that comes with years of experience and learning and in this way has acquired some authority. The Qur`an always uses the word in the sense of “old” (11:72, 12:78, 28:13, 40:67). Now what does it mean to say “as for al-shaykh and al-shaykhah, stone them to death outright”? Surely, it cannot mean that people who reach old age should be stoned to death. But this is the literal meaning of the statement. In the narration in Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, the “verse” contains the clause “when they commit zina`” (idha zaniya), which makes the statement more precise:

As for al-shaykh and al-shaykhah, when they commit zina` stone them to death outright (al-shaykh wa al-shaykhah idha zaniya fa arjimuhuma al-battatah).

We may be inclined to say that in the Muwatta the omission of idha zaniya is a scribal or some other type of error, since these words are necessary. But Malik in his interpretation also omits these words. He says: “As for his word al-shaykh wa al-shaykhah … it meant, the married man and the married woman, stone them to death outright (al-thayyab wa al-thayyabah fa arjimuhuma al-battatah).”

Even if we add the words idha zaniya (when they commit zina`), the “verse” makes no sense. The supporters of al-rajm are almost unanimous that stoning penalty does not depend on age but on marital status. If two old unmarried persons committed zina`, they will be flogged and not stoned to death. Some have translated al-shaykh/al-shaykhah as grown up or mature man/woman, but again, in the Islamic law even as understood by the supporters of al-rajm, being grown up and mature does not determine whether the stoning penalty will be applied. Malik interprets the words as  al-thayyab/al-thayyabah but Malik could not have arrived at this definition by linguistic considerations, since al-shaykh/al-shaykhah do not mean al-thayyab/al-thayyabah in the Arabic language. He arrived at this definition only to make some sense of the words within his understanding of the Islamic law. Moreover, even thayyab/thayyabah is not the best way to describe the fiqhi rule about stoning, since these words primarily mean “non-virgin”. Even an unmarried  divorced person can be described as thayyab/thayyabah[20].

Perhaps the best way to make sense of the stoning “verse” is to recall that al-shaykh/al-shaykhah can refer not only to persons who have lived many years but also those who have many years of  experience in something. Consequently, we can understand the words to refer to persons who have a long history of committing zina`, persons who have been single for a long time and have been satisfying their sexual urges outside marriage or who are married but for a long time have been involved in illicit sexual affairs. The stoning “verse” then means that such “old” fornicators/adulters should be stoned to death. This would explain Muwatta’s narration, in which the words “when they commit zina`” are not found. We may understand shaykh and shaykhah as “old-time fornicators/adulterers”, so that it is not necessary to say “when they commit zina`”.[21]  But even this interpretation, which to some extent respects the common usage of the words al-shaykh/al-shaykhah does not fit the fiqhi rules. It seems that while some supporters of stoning made rules about stoning others composed the stoning “verse” and the two groups never had a good talk together!

We may conclude from the above discussion that:

* A reference to a missing Qur`anic verse about stoning is not an integral part of the narrations of Yahya ibn Sa‘id. Two of his narrations can be read without assuming the existence of such a verse while in one of them the idea hangs on a single phrase which could be a later addition.

** The actual wording of the “verse” quoted in one of the narrations is highly problematic not only within the Qur`anic teaching but also within the Islamic law even as understood by the supporters of stoning.

 

5) A narration from Da`ud bin Abi Hind from Ibn al-Musayyab

 

If from Yahya ibn Sa‘id we move to his source, Ibn al-Musayyab, then we can be more certain that the stoning verse was not a part of his narration. For, we have another narrator Da`ud bin Abi Hind who is said to quote Ibn al-Musayyab without referring to the stoning verse: 

Ahmad bin Mani‘ related to us: Ishaq bin Yusuf al-Azraq  related to us from Da`ud bin Abi Hind from Ibn al-Musayyab from ‘Umar bin al-Khattab who said: 

The Messenger of God stoned, Abu Bakr stoned and I stoned. If it were not that I do not approve of adding to the Book of God, I would have written it in the masahif. For, I fear that there will come groups who will not find it in the Book of God and so will reject it. (Tirmidhi 1351) 

In this narration there is no quotation of a stoning verse that was supposedly recited once upon a time. ‘Umar is only saying that al-rajm is a part of the divine law because the Holy Prophet applied this penalty and so did those who succeeded him. If it were alright to add to the Book of God, he would have included a mention of it in the Qur`an. This is not to say that there was once a verse about stoning that was somehow omitted from the Qur`an. As in the narration of Sa‘d bin Ibrahim from ‘Ubayd Allah, what ‘Umar is alleged to desire is to add in the Qur`an something about al-rajm that was not there and not to restore to it a verse about stoning that was once a part of it.

 

 

A REVIEW OF THE NARRATIONS

 

 

Let us briefly review the various narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith that we have discussed above. To this end, we first list below the various separate statements that are found in these narrations:

 

1)                  Objection to al-rajm: “with the lapse of time some will say, We do not find stoning in the Book of God, and thus go astray …”. In some narrations, the people who object to stoning were present already in ‘Umar’s time.

2)                  Appeal to the Sunnah: “The Messenger of God indeed carried out al-rajm and we carried it out after him.”

3)                  Desire to add to the Qur`an:  “Were it not that people will say that ‘Umar has added to the Book of God what is not part of it I will have written it [injunction of al-rajm] in the mushaf.” In some narrations, ‘Umar desists from adding to the Qur`an because he himself disapproves of adding anything to the Book of God.

4)                  Rule of evidence: “Surely, the penalty of al-rajm is justly laid (in the Book of God, according to some narrations) on whoever commits zina` while married and the crime is proved by direct evidence (of witnesses) or pregnancy or confession.”

5)                  Stoning verse: “a part of what God revealed was a verse of stoning”. In some narrations the reference to the stoning verse is not so explicit but it assumed.

 

Only one of the narrations, Abu Da`ud 3835, contains all the five statements listed above. Other narrations contain 2 or 3 or 4 of the statements. The following table shows the various narrations and the various statements found in them.

 

 

Table 1: Narrations of ‘Umar’s Hadith

 

 

ISNAD CATEGORY

SOURCE

OBJECTION TO AL-RAJM

APPEAL TO SUNNAH

DESIRE TO ADD TO THE QUR`AN

RULE OF EVIDENCE

STONING VERSE

1) Al-Zuhri-‘Ubayd Allah

Malik 1295

N

N

N

Y

N

 

Darimi 2219

Y

Y

N

Y

Y

 

Ahmad 265

Y

Y

N

Y

Y

 

Ahmad 368

Y

Y

N

Y

Y

 

Bukhari 6327

Y

N

N

Y

N

 

Ibn Majah 2543

Y

Y

N

Y

Y

 

Muslim 3201

Y

Y

N

Y

Y

 

Bukhari 6778

N

N

N

N

Y

 

Tirmidhi 1352

Y

Y

N

Y

Y

 

Ahmad 313

N

Y

N

N

Y

 

Ibn Ishaq

Y

Y

N

Y

Y

 

Bukhari 6328

Y

Y

N

Y

Y

 

Abu Da`ud 3835

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

1) or 2)

Ahmad 192

Y

Y

Y

N

N

2) Sa ‘d – ‘Ubayd Allah

Ahmad 333

Y

Y

Y

N

N

3)‘Ali

--Yusuf

Ahmad 151

Y

Y

Y

N

N

4) Yahya –Ibn al-Musayyab

Malik 1297

Y

Y

Y

N

Y

 

Ahmad 241

Y

Y

N

N

N

 

Ahmad 285

Y

Y

N

N

N

5) Da`ud- Ibn al-Musayyab

Tirmidhi 1351

Y

Y

Y

N

N

Total (Narrations)

20

17

17

6

11

12

Total (Isnad Categories)

5

5

5

5

2

2

 

In this table Y indicates that a statement is found in a narration and N indicates that it is not. The table also shows two totals:

 

1)  The total number of narrations that contain a statement;

2)  The total number of isnad categories that contain a narration that contains a statement. 

It is clear that the second total is far more meaningful than the first, since there is a large percentage (13/20 = 65% or 14/20 = 70%) of narrations from al-Zuhri (isnad category 1) and if a statement is narrated by him, the first total for it will be large even though it is supported mostly by one witness. For example, a reference to a stoning verse has a relatively large first total (12 or 60%), but it is not supported by many narrators other than al-Zuhri, as is shown by a small value  of the second total (2 or 10%). The statement is therefore not likely to be a part of the earliest version. On the other hand, in case of the “desire to add to the Qur`an” the first total equals only 6 (30%) because it is missing from almost all the narrations of al-Zuhri but the second total is 5 (100%) because it is reported by narrations in all the isnad categories. 

From our examination of the various narrations we can also outline the probable history of ‘Umar’s hadith as follows: 

The hadith cannot be traced back to ‘Umar or any companion with any confidence. It originated during the time of the Khawarij and aims to combat their justified[22] rejection of stoning on the grounds that it misfits the Qur`an. Since the two parts of the hadith that are common to most narrations are the “objection to al-rajm” and “appeal to the sunnah” it is probable that the original verson of the hadith consisted of these two statmenents. Hence except for the wording the orginal version was something similar to the narrations of Yahya ibn Sa‘id in Ahmad 241 and 285: 

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said: “Take care lest you are destroyed on account of the verse of stoning (saying) we do not find two penalties in the Book of God. I have seen the Messenger of God; he did carry out al-rajm and so did we.” (Ahmad 241, 285) 

The desire by ‘Umar to add to the Qur`an is also common to at least four isnad categories. It, therefore, seems that soon after its creation, this statement also began to be added to ‘Umar’s hadith, giving rise to narrations similar in substance, though not necessarily in wording, to the narrations from Sa‘d bin Ibrahim (Ahmad 333) and Da`ud bin Abi Hind (Tirmidhi 1351): 

The Messenger of God stoned, Abu Bakr stoned and I stoned. If it were not that I do not approve of adding to the Book of God, I would have written it in the masahif. For, I fear that there will come groups who will not find it in the Book of God and so will reject it. (Tirmidhi 1351) 

At this stage of the hadith what ‘Umar would add to the Qur`an was understood to be an unspecified reference to al-rajm. But later “it” that ‘Umar would add was understood in some specific ways that are then reflected in the narrations. These specific ways were: 

i)                    “It” refers to a verse that once existed in the Qur`an but is now missing.

ii)                   “It” refers to a testimony that al-rajm is sunnah.

iii)                  “It” refers to the statement: as for al-shaykh and al-shaykhah stone them outright..

At the same time the statement on rules of evidence existed as a separate saying that al-Zuhri made part of ‘Umar’s hadith on stoning. This together with the various specific ways of understanding what ‘Umar would add to the Qur`an gave rise to the following narrations: 

Al-Zuhri (Ibn Ishaq and others): 

God sent Muhammad with the truth and sent down the Book to him. Part of what God sent down was the verse of al-rajm; we recited it, we were taught it, and we memorized it. God’s Messenger did carry out stoning and so did we after him. I am afraid that with the passage of time people will say that they find no mention of al-rajm in God's Book and thus they will go astray by leaving an obligation sent down by God. Surely, al-rajm in the Book of God is laid on married men and women who commit zina` if there is direct evidence (of witnesses) or conception or confession. 

Yusuf bin Mihran (Ahmad 151): 

Do not be deceived about it. It is one of the hudud ordained by God. Beware! The Messenger of God carried out al-rajm and we carried it out after him. Were it not that some talkers would say that ‘Umar has added in the Book of God what is not a part of it, I would have written it in the margin of the mushaf 

‘Umar bin al-Khattab testifies (at one time Hushaym said: ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf and so-and-so testify”) that the Messenger of God did indeed carry out stoning and we carried it out after him. 

Beware that after you there will come people who will reject al-rajm … . 

Yahya bin Sa‘id from Ibn al-Musayyab (Muwatta 1297):

“Take care lest you are destroyed because of the verse of stoning (tahliku ‘an `ayah al-rajm) and lest someone says, we do not find two penalties in the Book of God. The Messenger of God carried out stoning and we carried it out. By the one in whose hand my soul is, had it not been that people would say that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab has added to the Book of God, I would have written it:

as for al-shaykh and al-shaykhah stone them both outright (al-shaykh wa al-shaykhah fa arjimuhuma al-battatah)

We certainly recited it ( fa inna qad qara`na ha)."

The above review establishes the important observation made earlier, that is, almost all of the narrations mentioning the existence of the stoning “verse” come from one man: al-Zuhri. The only exception is a narration of Yahya ibn Sa‘id from Ibn al-Musayyab (Muwatta 1297), but: 1) this narration does not have complete isnad reaching ‘Umar; and 2) its reference to the stoning verse is not supported by two of Yahya ibn Sa‘id’s own narrations (Ahmad 241, 285) and the narration of Da`ud bin Abi Hind (Tirmidhi 1351). 

Thus take away al-Zuhri and the stoning “verse” will cease to have credibility for an overwhelming majority of muhaddithun. The question is whether al-Zuhri was such a reliable narrator that on his authority alone we can accept a report, especially a report that: a) attributes to the Qur`an a verse for which we have no other evidence, b) casts doubt on the validity of the divine promise of preserving the Qur`an; and c) attributes to a believer like ‘Umar an idea that at least at first sight makes little sense.

 

 

How trustworthy was Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri? 

 

It should be first noted that regardless of the reliability of a witness, one witness is not considered sufficient in Islam and other systems in matters of importance. Even for things that are ultimately less important than attributing something to God or his Messenger, the Qur`an expects the testimony of two witnesses, e.g., in finalizing financial deals (2:282). Also, the Qur`anic rules about number of witnesses ares meant for all Muslims, including the Companions. Hence regardless of how trustworthy al-Zuhri may be his word alone is not sufficient to establish the existence of the stoning verse. (For a more detailed discussion of how far a hadith depending on a single narrator at some stage of its transmission is acceptable, see my article, “Accepting a Hadith From a Single Narrator”). But there are grounds to believe that al-Zuhri was not as trustworthy as is generally thought. 

There is no doubt that al-Zuhri has enjoyed considerable status among many hadith narrators from the very early times. Yet several comments by scholars also suggest that:

 

1)      Although no liar or fabricator of traditions al-Zuhri was not entirely accurate and faithful to his sources.

2)      He did not critically examine his sources and what they narrated before attributing words and actions to the Prophet and the Companions. He was more interested in having many traditions to tell rather than to tell what was historically accurate.

 

Here are some of these comments[23] about him.

 

Imam Layth ibn Sa‘d (d. 175) writes in a letter to Imam Malik

 

When we would meet Ibn Shihab, there would arise a difference of opinion in many issues. When any one of us would ask him in writing about some issue, he, inspite of being so learned, would give three very different answers, and he would not even be aware of what he had already said. It is because of this that I have left him – something that you did not like. (Ibn Qayyim, I‘lam al-Muwaqqi`in)

 

 

Rabi‘ah would say to Ibn Shihab: My case is totally different from you. Whatever I say, I say it from my own self and you say it on the authority of the Prophet and so you must be careful; it is not befitting for a person to waste himself [like this]. (Bukhari, Tarikh al-Kabir)

 

Rabi‘ah would say to Ibn Shihab: When you narrate something according to your own opinion, always inform the people that this is your own view. And when you narrate something from the Prophet, always inform them that it is from the Prophet so that they do not consider it to be your opinion. (Khatib al-Baghdadi, Al-Faqih wa al-Mutafaqqih).

 

Sometimes, a group of people would present a hadith to him to corroborate something. So, at times, he would narrate from the whole group and sometimes from one person of that group. This would be according to the way he felt during

the narration. Sometimes, he would insert the hadith narrated by one into that narrated by someone else as he has done in the hadith of ifk besides others. When he would feel lazy, he would narrate mursal ahadith, and when he would be feeling fresh, he would narrate muttasil ones. It is because of this that his associates differ a lot about him. (Al-Zurqani, Sharh al-Zurqani ‘ala Muwatta li al-Imam Malik

 

As already noted, mursal hadith is one that is quoted from a Successor without mentioning the name of any Companion who could have communicated it from the Prophet. Muttasil hadith is one that has an unbroken  isnad.

 

Imam Shafi‘i, Daraqutni and many others have attributed tadlis to al-Zuhri. (Ibn Hajar, Tabaqat al-Mudallisin).

 

Al-Dhahabi has a more favorable comment:

 

            Al-Zuhri used to do tadlis rarely. (Al-Dhahabi, Mizan al-I‘tidal)

 

Tadlis means to narrate from a person, whom the narrator has met, something that is not heard directly from him but an impression is given that it was heard from him. To be fair to al-Zuhri, tadlis, although a form of deceit, was very common in the first few generations when the professional standards of hadith communication had not yet been widely established. In fact, it was so common that Shafi‘i did not reject the ahadith from mudallisun but simply required that they explicitly say that they had heard the hadith from the source. He says: 

 

We will not accept the narration of a muddalis unless he says haddathani (it has been narrated to me) or sami‘tu (I have heard). (Shafi‘i, Al-Risalah)

 

Ibn Rajab records the following opinion from Bukhari:

 

Al-Zuhri would narrate ahadith and on most occasions would insert sentences from his own self. Some of these would be mursal (traditions) and some of them would be his own. (Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari)

 

Imam Abu Da`ud says: 

 

Out of the twenty two hundred ahadith narrated by al-Zuhri only half are musnad [the rest are mursal]. (A musnad hadith is one with an unbroken isnad reaching the Prophet.) (Al-Dhahabi, Tadhkirah al-Huffaz)

 

A mursal hadith is not automatically suspicious but some earlier scholars such as Yahya bin Sa‘id al-Qattan have argued that such ahadith from al-Zuhri are baseless.

 

It is reported from Yahya bin Sa‘id al-Qattan that he said: A mursal of al-Zuhri is  baseless. (Al-Suyuti, Tadrib al-Rawi; Ibn ‘Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq

 

It is reported from Yahya bin Sa‘id al-Qattan that he said: A mursal of al-Zuhri is the worst of all since he is a hafiz. Whenever he wants he can disclose the name of a person. He only leaves the name of him whom he does not want to name. (Al-Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam; Al-Suyuti, Tadrib al-Rawi; Ibn ‘Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq; Ibn Rajab, Sharh ‘Ilal al-Tirmidhi)

 

Yahya bin Sa‘id al-Qattan did not think much of irsal of al-Zuhri and Qatadah. He used to say: It is like the wind. He also used to say: These people were huffaz; whenever they heard anything, they fastened it (to their memories).

 

 

 

Many of the above comments about al-Zuhri are supported by the actual examination of the traditions narrated by him. We will illustrate this by several examples as our study of ahadith concerning al-rajm proceeds. At this point we mention two examples.

 

In al-Zuhri’s narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith we noted that there are two statements that are not found in narrations from four other narrators: the statement about the rule of evidence and the statement that “part of what God revealed was the verse of stoning”. It is probable that al-Zuhri received these statements from some narrators that he does not name and made them part of ‘Ubayd Allah’s narration of ‘Umar’s hadith, in this way confirming the comment of Ibn Rajab:

 

Al-Zuhri would narrate ahadith and on most occasions would insert sentences from his own self. Some of these would be mursal (traditions) and some of them would be his own.

 

Our second example comes from Shafi‘i, who in his al-Risalah, mentions the hadith:

 

“The trusted authority [Yahya bin Hassan] told us from Ibn Abi Dhi`b from Ibn Shihab who said: The Messenger of God ordered a man who laughed during the prayer to repeat the ablution and the prayer.” 

 

Then Shafi‘i comments:

 

“We did not accept this tradition because it is interrupted. Then the trusted authority narrated the same tradition from Ma‘mar from Ibn Shihab from Sulayman bin Arqam from al-Hasan from the Prophet.”

 

Now Sulayman bin Arqam is almost unanimously considered by scholars as an unreliable narrator[24]. Yet al-Zuhri narrates from him[25]. This shows that al-Zuhri sometimes narrated ahadith from weak narrators and tried to avoid naming his sources, although, if asked he would correctly name them.

 

This illustrates the following comment about him that we quoted earlier:  

 

When he would feel lazy, he would narrate mursal ahadith, and when he would be feeling fresh, he would narrate muttasil ones. It is because of this that his associates differ a lot about him. (Al-Zurqani, Sharh al-Zurqani ‘ala Muwatta li al-Imam Malik

 

It is possible to reconcile the negative comments about al-Zuhri quoted above with the positive trust that he enjoyed among many early narrators. Al-Zuhri collected and memorized/wrote a very large number of traditions and then transmitted them. Most people get very impressed by those who can relate a lot of stories and quote a lot of sayings of earlier authorities, even if they lack critical judgment, depth of understanding, and accuracy in reporting. Moreover, most people themselves do not consciously and actively seek depth and accuracy. As a result, prolific narrators like al-Zuhri could gain widespread respect despite their numerous faults. Only some keen observers could see their faults and report about them, but once they had managed to gain widespread respect, negative comments about them were discounted and they were established as trustworthy narrators. 

 

 

A summary of arguments against the existence of a stoning verse

 

 

1)      The idea of a missing verse about stoning is inherently implausible in the extreme, as we can see by asking, what happened to it? There are only two possible answers:

 

a) The “verse” was omitted from the Qur`an intentionally by an authority such as the Prophet himself or one of the Muslim khulafa` who are said to “collect” the Qur`an.

 

b) It got lost by an accident.

 

The first answer is implausible in the extreme because the idea of a “verse” that was once a part of the Qur`an and was later removed without discontinuing the law it promulgated does not seem to be a sensible idea that we can attribute to any reasonable person, much less to a person of such knowledge and stature as the Prophet or Abu Bakr or ‘Umar al-Faruq.

 

The second answer is implausible in the extreme not only because it makes a mockery of God’s promise of preserving the Qur`an – which only Muslims believe – but also because it calls into question the will and/or ability of the Prophet and his closest and greatest followers to perform the relatively simple task of compiling complete and accurate copies of the Qur`an – a will and ability that we can expect from our historical knowledge of these personalities regardless of whether we are Muslims or non-Muslims. Even if one is inclined to grant that due to some freak accident the “verse” got omitted from the Qur`an, the Muslim leader of the time – the Prophet or Abu Bakr or ‘Umar -- is expected to immediately restore it to the Qur`an as soon as he discovered its accidental omission.

 

2)      Even if for some very strange reason the stoning “verse” could not be included in, or restored to, the Qur`an, many Companions are expected to know what the “verse” actually said, especially since it is said that they used to recite it and practice stoning on its basis. Now when we turn to the traditions to find out what the verse said, substantially the only answer we find is:

 

al-shaykh and al-shaykhah, when they commit zina` stone them to death outright”.

 

But this “verse” makes no sense because shaykh/shaykhah means “old” and being old has absolutely nothing to do with the application of the stoning penalty in any known formulation of Islamic law.

 

3)      As noted above, many Companions are expected to know about the verse, if it actually existed. Yet only one hadith about it from only one Companion – ‘Umar – has acquired some credibility with the muhaddithun.

 

4)      This one hadith is said to be narrated from ‘Umar only by one transmitter – Ibn ‘Abbas. Even if Ibn ‘Abbas narrated the hadith, we cannot necessarily rely upon it despite the  trustworthiness of Ibn ‘Abbas (see my article, Accepting a Hadith From a Single Narrator). 

 

5)      Only ‘Ubayd Allah and Yusuf bin Mihran are said to narrate the hadith from Ibn ‘Abbas. Yusuf bin Mihran is considered untrustworthy by unscholars, leaving us only with one trustworthy narrator said to narrate the hadith from Ibn ‘Abbas.

 

6)      The hadith has been narrated in different forms by five narrators in the third generation and yet only one of them – al-Zuhri – can be said with some confidence to talk about the existence of the stoning verse.

 

7)      The reliability of al-Zuhri is not such that we can on the basis of his word alone accept the existence of the “verse” against all the difficulties mentioned above.

 

 

Other statements about al-rajm attritbuted to ‘Umar

 

The primary objective of our examination of ‘Umar’s hadith was to see whether it provides a reliable basis to postulate the existence once upon a time of a verse in the Qur`an that prescribed stoning for adultery. This objective has been met, for we can conclude from the above examination that the hadith provides no such basis.

 

But narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith contains four other statements about stoning and it is clearly of interest to examine whether any of these other statements can be attributed to ‘Umar with reasonable confidence. We now address this question.

 

In answering this question we begin by a general observation. Note that the various extant narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith are to be considered words of the third-generation narrators at the ealiest -- Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, Sa ‘d bin Ibrahim, Yahya bin Sa‘id, Da`ud bin Abi Hind, and ‘Ali bin Zayd. Now these narrations even when narrated from the same third-generation narrator in our best sources can differ from one another. The differences are so significant that some narrations assume a missing verse about stoning while others do not; some quote the alleged stoning “verse” while most do not. Ibn Ishaq’s narration adds a reference to another missing “verse” --about desiring ancestor’s other than one’s own -- which is not found in other early narrations. In the narration of ‘Ali bin Zayd from Yusuf bin Mihran we unexpectedly encounter references to intercession, al-Dajjal, punishment in the grave, etc that are not mentioned in any narration in Ibn Ishaq, Muwatta, Bukhari, Muslim and is clearly a later addition. Now if we go earlier than the third-generation transmitters to the second-generation transmitters – ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Utbah, Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab, and Yusuf bin Mihran – and then to the original narrators – ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf and/or Ibn ‘Abbas --  and finally to the original speaker – ‘Umar -- what can assure us that their reports did not likewise suffer significant changes? The answer is: nothing. What ‘Umar said may have been radically different from what the extant reports say, so much so that even the reference to al-rajm may not have been there. If during the transmission of the hadith a missing stoning “verse” can get created, a reference to al-rajm could also have been produced out of the original words of ‘Umar. We now argue that this is not just a hypothetical possibility. We provide reasonable grounds to think that the three of the four remaining statements in ‘Umar’s hadith cannot be attributed to ‘Umar and one of them originally did not talk about al-rajm.

 

Not finding al-rajm in the Book of God, they (will) reject it

 

This statement comes in many significantly different forms, sometimes from the same narrator. Thus in a narration of al-Zuhri from ‘Ubayd Allah it reads:

 

I am afraid that after a long time has passed, people may say, ‘We do not find al-rajm in the Book of God,’ and consequently they may go astray by neglecting an obligation … (Bukhari 6327)

 

Here the people who reject al-rajm because they do not find it in the Qur`an come in the future after the time of ‘Umar. But in a narration of Sa‘d bin Ibrahim from the same  ‘Ubayd Allah such people are already present in the time of ‘Umar:

 

There are people who say, What is this al-rajm when in the Book of God there is only flogging? (Ahmad 333)

 

The situation is similar in regard to narrations from Ibn al-Musayyab. Thus in the narrations of Yahya bin Sa‘id from him we read:

 

Take care … lest someone says, we do not find two penalties in the Book of God. (Muwatta 1297)

 

Here there is no reference to the time when the objection against al-rajm is raised, although presumably it is in the present. But in the following narration of  Da`ud bin Abi Hind, also from Ibn al-Musayyab, the reference is clearly to the future:

 

I fear that there will come groups who will not find it in the Book of God and so will reject it. (Tirmidhi 1351)

 

Finally, in the narration of Yusuf bin Mihran we read something quite different:

 

Beware that after you there will come people who will reject al-rajm, al-Dajjal, intercession, the punishment in the grave, and being taken out of hell after being burnt (for a period) (Ahmad 151)

 

Notice that the wording of the statement also changes considerably from narrator to narrator. Such discrepancies, of which there are very many examples in the Hadith literature, should alert us to the fact that the transmission of traditions has been anything but faithful. This may not be too serious in some cases, but when on the basis of traditions we have to accept a law that does not appear to fit with the Qur`an and requires taking the life of a person by a very painful way, we should not be too tolerant to defects in the transmission process.

 

We may be inclined to accept a reference to a future group of people because this is what we find in most of the narrations and most of the isnad categories. But that requires assuming that ‘Umar acquired a miraculous knowledge of the future. While this is not by any means impossible, we should accept a miraculous occurrence on the basis of very stringent historical evidence, something that is not forthcoming in the case at hand. The discrepencies pointed out above do not allow the hadith to meet such stringent standards.

 

Consequently, it is probably not ‘Umar who is miraculously foreseeing the thoughts of people coming after him but rather people coming after him who are looking in the past towards ‘Umar for support for their belief in al-rajm. In order to use his authority and status they are dragging ‘Umar into the arguments with their opponents such as the Khawarij who rejected al-rajm on the basis of the Qur`an.

 

I will have written it in the Book of God

 

The Qur`an has said:

 

"Woe then unto those who write the book with their own hands and then say,

This is from God, in order to acquire a trifling gain thereby. Woe then unto them for what their hands have written and woe unto them for all that they may have gained (2:79).

 

Altering the Book of God is worse than adultery, theft, murder, addiction to drinking etc, since the effect of these sins, however heinous they may be, is often limited to certain individuals whereas altering the word of God may mislead the whole ummah till the day of judgment. It is for this reason that for those who commit this crime the Qur`an thrice uses the word wayl (woe), which is always applied in the Qur`an, when used by God[26], in the context of talking about mushrikun or kafirun. Is it likely that a man of ‘Umar’s knowledge[27], faith, and leadership qualities will even consider adding to the Book of God something that is not there? Because of his knowledge he would have known that it is an extremely serious sin to add anything to the Book of God. Because of his faith he would have been fully committed to avoid such a sin and even thinking about it. And because of his leadership qualities he would have known that even expressing a desire to add to the Book of God would give some people the wrong idea that it is alright to do so. Read ‘Umar’s words again: “Were it not that people will say that ‘Umar has added to the Book of God what is not part of it I will have written it [injunction of al-rajm] in the mushaf.” Here people believe that nothing should be added to the Book of God and it is the fear of people’s talk that is holding ‘Umar back. As far as he himself is concerned it is alright to make additions to the Book of God!

 

There is at least one narration, Tirmidhi 1351 (also found in Sunan of al-Bayhaqi (d. 458)), in which ‘Umar desists from adding to the Book of God on the basis of his own belief that such addition is wrong instead of the fear of what people will say. But in the light of all the other narrations, we must conclude that in the earliest narrations it is the fear of people’s talk that stands between ‘Umar and his changing the Book of God. This is really hard to attribute to ‘Umar.

 

Thus it would seem that the wish to add to the Book of God does not reflect the wish of ‘Umar (with whom God is well pleased) but the wishful thinking of some supporters of al-rajm faced with a powerful argument – the argument that al-rajm cannot be Islamic because the Qur`an gives its own different penalty for zina`.

 

 

The Messenger of God stoned and we stoned 

 

The first of this statement -- the Messenger of God stoned -- will be examined in detail in Part II of this book. Here we examine the second part -- “we stoned (after him)”.

 

 “We” here probably means Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, which is explicitly stated in some narrations (Tirmidhi  1351 and also in Sunan of Tayalsi). But when we turn to our sources to see whether Abu Bakr and ‘Umar indeed stoned any person for adultery, we find no solid evidence for that. In case of Abu Bakr we find no case of stoning for adultery. In case of ‘Umar, we find one case[28] in Muwatta but this case is not mentioned in Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Da`ud, Nasa`i, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Darimi, or such early history books as Ibn Sa‘d. Well-known commentaries on the Hadith collections normally refer to other relevant traditions that help explain the ahadith. But even in these commentaries we do not find any report of any stoning by Abu Bakr or ‘Umar. It should be noted here that during the ten years of Madinan period of the Prophet’s life at least three cases of al-rajm are reported in the early Hadith books. By this rate during the ten years of ‘Umar’s khilafah there should be dozens if not hundreds of cases of al-rajm. For, bear in mind that when the reported cases of al-rajm by the Prophet took place the Muslim community numbered no more than some tens of thousands while in the time of ‘Umar the number of Muslims was in the millions. One may counter this argument by saying that proving adultery without confession is difficult and in the time of the Prophet all cases of adultery were established by confession. In the time of the Prophet Muslims’ moral and spiritual level was much higher and therefore they were much more willing to confess. But the moral and spiritual factor works in the other direction as well: a lowering of moral and spiritual level in the ummah will increase the cases of adultery. Also, a majority of the same Companions who allegedly produced adulterers and adulteresses were alive in the time of ‘Umar and we should expect some cases of adultery to continue among them.

 

Even more importantly, the whole idea that God will omit such a serious matter as stoning from the Qur`an and leave it to the Sunnah is against the view of ‘Umar regarding the Qur`an. For him the Qur`an provided guidance on everything important, as we can clearly see from some wel-attested traditions. Thus we read in Bukhari:

Anas bin Malik heard 'Umar speaking while standing on the pulpit of the Prophet in the morning (following the death of the Prophet), when the people had sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr. He said the tashahhud before Abu Bakr, and said, “amma ba'd God has chosen for his Messenger what is with him (paradise) rather than what is with you (the world). This (Qur`an) is the book with which God guided your Messenger, so hold on to it, for then you will be guided on the right path as God guided his Messenger with it.”

Ibn Ishaq also records this tradition with some variation:

Al-Zuhri told me from Anas bin Malik: On the day after Abu Bakr’s acceptance in the hall he sat in the pulpit and ‘Umar got up and spoke before him, and after duly praising God he said: “O men, yesterday I said something which I do not find in the Book of God nor was it something that the Messenger of God entrusted to me; but I thought that the Messenger would (continue) running our affairs and be the last of us (alive). God has left with you his book, by which he guided his Messenger, and if you hold fast to that God will guide you as he guided him ....” 

Finally, there is the following narration in Ibn Sa‘d:

Al-Zuhri said that he was told by Anas bin Malik that he heard ‘Umar bin al-Khattab in the Prophet’s mosque on the morning of the day when people gave allegiance to Abu Bakr and when Abu Bakr was sitting on the pulpit. ‘Umar recited the tashahhud before Abu Bakr and said: “amma ba‘d, yesterday I said something to you which was not true. By God I did not find it in the Book of God nor was it something that the Prophet entrusted to me. It only reflected my desire that the Prophet should remain alive. Then ‘Umar came to what he wanted to say,  (my desire was to see) the Prophet die after all of us but God chose for the Prophet nearness to him rather than nearness to you. This (Qur`an) is the book with which God guided your Messenger, so hold on to it, for then you will be guided on the right path as God guided his Messenger with it.

 

In all narrations ‘Umar regards only the Qur`an to be the source of guidance. In Ibn Ishaq’s and Ibn Sa’d’s narrations, the words “something that the Messenger of God entrusted to me” do show that the Prophet taught things not contained in the Book of God and that this was important in the eyes of the Companions. But in subsequent words, the focus shifts entirely to the Qur`an which is considered sufficient for guidance: “God has left his book with you, that by which he guided his Messenger, and if you hold fast to that God will guide you as he guided him.” In Bukhari’s narration, there is no reference to what the Messenger entrusted to ‘Umar and the entire focus is on the Book of God. Ibn Sa’d seems to be dependent on both narrations.

 

The above reports concern what ‘Umar said very soon after the death of the Holy Prophet. In the following tradition, ‘Umar says something very similar just before his own death:

 

Abu Hamzah said that he heard from Juwariyah bin Qadamah of Bani Tamim that he performed his hajj in the year ‘Umar died. ‘Umar came to Madinah and gave a (Friday) sermon in which he told people that he saw a dream that a cock pricked him with his beak. Before another Friday passed he was hit with a dagger. To enquire about his health there came some Companions of the Prophet, some people of Madinah, some of Syria, and then of Iraq. Every group that arrived, wept and praised him. I was also among those who entered in his presence and he was wearing a bandage on his wound. We asked for some wasiyyah and apart from us none asked for it. He said: I give you wasiyyah about the Book of God. For, as long as you will follow it, you will never go astray. Ibn Sa ‘d III/119

 

Thus from the time the Prophet died to his own death ‘Umar held on to the Qur`an as the main source of Islam. If ‘Umar believed that “the Prophet stoned” and on that basis also believed in the stoning penalty, then he would have to regard the Sunnah/Hadith as a fundamental and independent source of guidance in addition to the Qur`an and he could not have put the focus on the Qur`an that he did according to the above traditions.

The focus on the Qur`an that ‘Umar showed is not unique to him. We saw in Chapter 2 that traditions about ‘Ali suggest the same. Indeed, we can regard this view as the ijma‘ among the sahabah since had the sahabah as a group seen the Sunnah/Hadith as a fundamental and independent source of Islamic guidance, they would have prepared an authentic collection of ahadith under their supervision. But it is an obvious fact that they did not. The usual explanation is that this is because the sahabah did not want the Hadith and the Qur`an to get mixed. But is that not an admission that for the sahabah the Qur`an was the primary source? If they could risk alteration in the Sunnah/Hadith by not preparing written collections in order that they could prevent any alteration in the Qur`an, then clearly the Sunnah/Hadith was of secondary value in their eyes.

When the Companions of the Prophet focused on the Qur`an, this did not mean that the Sunnah/Hadith was not important for them. Everything that the Prophet said or did as a religious teacher and spiritual guide was of great importance in their eyes. But this importance of the Sunnah/Hadith was not that of a second independent source along with the Qur`an. They believed, as the above traditions make abundantly clear, that the Qur`an provided a comprehensive outline of all that the Prophet taught by words and example, so that it was possible to get at least all the main guidance from it. The role of the Sunnah/Hadith was to provide the context for the Qur`an and some further details that were not of the same degree of importance as the general laws and principles that the Qur`an gave, so that it was not necessary to take any special measures for its preservation.

 

From the two points made above – the absence of any well established case of stoning by Abu Bakr or ‘Umar and the focus on the Qur`an by ‘Umar and other Companions – we can conclude that ‘Umar never uttered the words: “The Messenger of God carried out stoning and we carried it out after him”.

 

Surely, al-rajm is just requirement …

 

Let us now look at the fourth saying attributed to ‘Umar:

 

“Surely, al-rajm is just requirement (haqq ‘ala) [in the Book of God] on any man or woman who commits zina` while married and the crime is proved (by witnesses) or by pregnancy or confession.” 

 

To the best of my knowledge this saying is not found in any tradition other than ‘Umar’s hadith. And in ‘Umar’s hadith it is included only by Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri. The other four narrators – Sa‘d bin Ibrahim, Yahya bin Sa‘id, Da`ud bin Abi Hind, and Yusuf bin Mihran – do not mention it at all in their narrations of the hadith. Furthermore, in its extant form the saying has a flaw, in view of which it is difficult to attribute to ‘Umar:

 

Pregnancy cannot by itself provide a basis for al-rajm. For, it is universally held by the supporters of al-rajm – and is also stated in the saying in question – that al-rajm is applied only to a married person and clearly for a married woman pregnancy could not have been considered a proof of adultery in the first-century[29]. Only witnesses or confession (a form of which is her refusal to respond with li‘an to her husband’s accusation by li‘an) can establish the guilt of a married woman. It is indeed possible that the husband has been away from home or may not have touched her for such a long time that he can be excluded as the child’s father. But this absence of the husband from home or from bed can be established in law only by the husband’s own testimony (through li‘an) or wife’s confession and not by pregnancy. Of course, some other witnesses can testify that they did not see the husband going in or coming from his house for a certain long enough period of time but this testimony cannot establish husband’s continuous absence from home, since he may have visited home without the knowledge of any witnesses[30].

 

 

Hence the statement is incoherent and therefore its attribution to a man of ‘Umar’s knowledge and understanding is difficult. The statement would make sense and fitting for a man like ‘Umar if it is not about al-rajm for the married case but rather about al-hadd for zina` generally, that is, if the statement reads:

 

al-hadd [fi kitab allah] haqq ‘ala man zana min al-rijal wa al-nisa` idha qamat al-bayyanah aw kana al-habal aw al-i‘tiraf

 

or, in translation,

 

al-hadd is just claim [in the Book of God] on any man or woman who commits zina` and the crime is proved by direct evidence (of witnesses) or by pregnancy or confession.”

 

Such a use of the word al-hadd to refer to the punishment for a crime is found frequently in the traditions and writings of Islamic scholars. Supporters of al-rajm could have easily changed al-hadd into al-rajm [31] and since the unanimous position among them was that al-rajm is only for a married person they would also have clarified the matter by the addition of idha uhsinna (“while married”), thus producing the strange statement that pregnancy is a proof of zina` by a married woman!

 

In the form reconstructed above the saying contains nothing that we cannot attribute to ‘Umar. It expresses the conclusion of an ijtihad on the question of how the proof is established for zina`. As the head of the Muslim government ‘Umar might well have been faced with this question. The answer provided by the reconstructed saying is perfectly consistent with the Qur`an and reflective of the spirit of its injunctions.

 

In case of clear eyewitness evidence, the Qur`an is very explicit. Confession as a sufficient basis for applying hadd can be deduced from the Qur`an by simple ijtihad: According to 24:8, if a woman refuses to counter through li‘an the accusation of adultery by her husband made similarly, then she is subject to the hadd. Here woman’s refusal to counter the accusation is regarded as an admission of guilt, which is sufficient to subject her to the penalty. So an actual explicit confession is all the more sufficient for the application of the penalty.

 

The view that in case of an (unmarried) woman pregnancy is legal proof of zina` is a sound position to take consistent with the spirit of the Qur`an, even though most  fuqaha` reject this view, as we learn from the following comment by Nawawi in his commentary on Muslim:

 

“As for pregnancy alone, the madhhab of ‘Umar is that al-hadd becomes obligatory by it, when she does not have a husband or a master. Malik and his associates also follow this view, saying: When a woman becomes pregnant and no husband or master is known for her and there is no knowledge of any use of force, al-hadd becomes necessary, unless she is a stranger in a locality and she claims that her pregnancy is from her husband or master. They say that her claim of being forced is not accepted if it is not established by her seeking help near the time of the use of force before the pregnancy occurs. But Shafi‘i and Abu Hanifah and a majority of scholars say that there is no hadd on the basis of pregnancy alone whether or not she has a husband or master and whether or not she is a stranger or whether or not she claimed use of force. There is simply no hadd except in case of clear eyewitness evidence or confession. This is because doubt lifts the hadd.” 

 

As mentioned by Nawawi, the basis given by scholars for rejecting ‘Umar’s view is that doubt lifts the penalty. This point is elaborated by A. A. Mawdudi as follows:

 

 “There is difference of opinion in regard to the question whether pregnancy by itself is sufficient proof of zina` when the woman does not have a known husband or, in case of a slavewoman, a known master. In the opinion of ‘Umar, it constitutes proof and this has been accepted by Malki fuqaha`. But a majority of fuqaha` are of the opinion that pregnancy alone is not such a proof as to provide basis for stoning someone to death or landing 100 stripes on the back of someone. For this type of severe penalty it is necessary that there should be either testimony of witnesses or confession. One of the basic principles of Islamic law is that doubt should be a basis not for punishing but for forgiving. The Holy Prophet has said: “remove penalties whenever there is any excuse for doing so.” (Ibn Majah) In another hadith it is said: “Keep penalties away from the Muslims as far as is possible. When an accused has any way open to him for avoiding penalty, let him go. For, it is better for the Imam to err in letting an accused go than to err in punishing him” (Tirmidhi). In accordance with this rule, pregnancy, no matter how strong it may be as a basis for suspicion, does not provide categorical proof of zina`, since there remains 1 chance in 100,000 that some semen from a man reaches the womb of a woman without sexual intercourse and she becomes pregnant. Even this much small doubt  should be enough to keep the terrible penalty away from the accused woman” (Mawdudi, 333).

 

There are several difficulties with the above line of argument.

 

First, the argument is based on a particular legal definition of zina`. Among the Hanafi scholars zina`  means vaginal intercourse while Shafi‘i and Malki scholars also include anal intercourse. In all these definitions the entry of the male organ in the woman’s private parts is essential for zina` to occur. Since pregnancy can occur without such entry actually taking place, pregnancy is not considered a proof of zina`. But none of these definitions is necessary on the basis of the Qur`an or ahadith and hence it is possible to include in this definition that level of sexual activity that can lead to pregnancy. After all, one of the reasons zina` is wrong and deserves punishment, not only in Islam but also in many other traditions, is because of its negative effect on the well being of existing children or any children that may be born as a result of zina`. In fact, the worst outcome of zina` is that it leads to the birth of a child. It is not reasonable to exclude this outcome from the definition of zina`. This is duly recognized by ‘Umar’s view.

 

Second, if we reject ‘Umar’s view because there is some chance that pregnancy can occur without vaginal intercourse, then there is also a chance that the four witnesses assumed to be reliable are not as reliable and for some reason conspired to give a false testimony. Likewise, there is a chance that a confession is wrong: people may think that the person is not mad but in reality he or she did loose normal rational thinking at the time of confession and this condition lasted till he received punishment. The fact is that no system of justice can be completely error free. We have to devise a system of establishing guilt in such a way as to reduce the possibility of error to a minimum without making conviction impossible and then apply that system, leaving it to God to compensate those who were punished by mistake.

 

Third, Mawdudi seems to assume that ‘Umar who for over 15 years learnt Islam from the Prophet and for about 10 years governed the Muslim ummah according to the Islamic law with consultation with other sahabah did not know the principle that the benefit of the doubt should be given to the accused. The fact is that some traditions attribute these words to ‘Umar. Thus Ibn Hazm in his Kitab al-Isal quotes a saying to this effect from ‘Umar with complete isnad and Ibn Abi Shaybah reports from Ibrahim al-Nakh‘i the following saying: “In the face of doubts it is better for me to make a mistake in not punishing than in punishing.”  These traditions are no less reliable than those quoted by Mawdudi from Ibn Majah and Tirmidhi[32].

 

Fourth, it is strange that the supporters of the stoning penalty withold the penalty at the slightest doubt about whether zina` was commited but in accepting the law on which that penalty is based they are not bothered by the fact that the traditions about the penalty contradict each other (see Part II) and misfit the Qur`an. Surely in the face of this disharmony the probabiliy that the traditions about al-rajm are unauthentic is at least as great as the probability that a woman will become pregnant without vaginal sexual intercourse. On the basis of this doubt about the authenticity of these traditions should those hundreds or thousands of persons stoned for adultery over the centuries not have been spared? It appears that one reason that the fuqaha` had to be much more careful than ‘Umar is that, unlike him, they believed in the much harsher penalty of al-rajm

 

In view of the above considerations we can conclude that the saying as reconstructed above represents sound ijtihad and can be attributed to ‘Umar. The only reason to doubt that ‘Umar spoke the saying is that, as noted earlier, it has reached us only through one man: al-Zuhri.

 

 

B) Other traditions about the stoning “verse”

 

We now examine traditions about the stoning “verse” other than ‘Umar’s hadith. These traditions are not found in Ibn Ishaq, Muwatta, Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Da`ud or Nasa`i[33]. This fact together with other weaknesses from which they suffer leaves very little chance of their being authentic. Nevertheless we briefly consider them here because this would give the reader a taste of how in earlier times some individuals fabricated or distorted stories and sayings of the Companions and the Prophet. Some readers, when they read reports in books or hear them in religious gatherings cannot imagine that they can be fabrications. But by reading the traditions that follow at least some readers should be able to see the capacity of people to create false reports out of misunderstanding or by deliberate design.

 

For an overview, we may note that behind the traditions about the “verse” of al-rajm there are questions/arguments that went back and forth between the supporters of the penalty and its opponents. Thus the opponents said that al-rajm cannot be authentic since the Qur`an has its own penalty for adultery and that penalty is not al-rajm. The supporters replied by saying that the Qur`an did have a verse about stoning. The opponents asked what did the “verse” say. The supporters produced wordings for the “verse”. The opponents then asked in which Surah  was the “verse” found, what happened to it and why is it not found in the Qur`an if it is still in force. The supporters replied the verse was in Surah al-Ahzab, stated that a goat ate the sheet on which it was written, and it was not added to the Qur`an because it was not quite consistent with the penalty for adultery in the Islamic law!!!.

Tthe wording of the missing “ verse”

We earlier saw the following two formulations of the stoning “verse”:

As for al-shaykh and al-shaykhah stone them to death outright (al-shaykh wa al-shaykhah fa arjimuhuma al-battatah) (Muwatta).

As for al-shaykh and al-shaykhah, when they commit zina` stone them to death outright (al-shaykh wa al-shaykhah idha zaniya fa arjimuhuma al-battatah) (Ibn Sa‘d).

The difference between the two narrations is that in the second narration the words “when they commit zina`” (idha zaniya).

Another formulation reads:

As for al-shaykh and al-shaykhah, when they commit zina` stone them to death outright, as exemplary punishment from God and God is mighty wise (al-shaykh wa al-shaykhah idha zaniya fa arjimuhuma al-battatah nakalan min allah wa allah ‘aziz hakim) (al-Bayhaqi quoted from Panipati, 235).

The additional words, “as exemplary punishment from God and God is mighty wise” (nakalan min allah wa allah ‘aziz hakim) are used in the Qur`an in 5:38 in connection with the punishment for thieves and appear to have been added by the supporters of al-rajm in imitation of that verse.

In Sunan al-Tayalsi (d. 204), the words, “as exemplary punishment from God” (nakalan min allah) become:

as exemplary punishment from God and his Messenger (nakalan min allah wa rasul hi).

This addition of “and his Messenger” in the stoning “verse” is consistent with al-Tayalsi’s addition of “Sunnah” in the words of ‘Umar as well:

[‘Umar said in his sermon:] O People! stoning is a penalty prescribed by God. Do not neglect it. It is in the Book of God and the Sunnah of your Prophet. The Messenger of God stoned; Abu Bakr stoned, and I have stoned.

This provides yet another illustration of how free transmitters felt in changing earlier traditions.

 

The stoning “verse” was  a part of the recited Qur`an but not of the written Qur`an

 

 

One would think that every verse in the Qur`an would be written down as well as recited under the supervision of the Prophet. But this is not always assumed in the traditions about the stoning verse. Several of them tell us that the stoning verse was never included in the Qur`an by the Prophet. Thus, Abu Ya‘la al-Mawsili (d. 307) in his Musnad and al-Nasa`i (d. 303) in his Sunan record the following hadith:

 

People were sitting with Marwan. Zayd bin Thabit, who was also present, said: “We used to read in the Qur`an that if married persons commit zina`, you must stone them to death.” Marwan said: “You did not write this verse into the Qur`an?” Zayd said: “Listen, when we started to talk about this, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab said: ‘Come let me satisfy you. One person came to the Prophet and talked such and such and mentioned al-rajm. Someone said, O Messenger of God, write down the verse of stoning. He replied, Now I cannot write it down or he said something similar.’”

 

 

Words attributed to Zayd, “we used to read in the Qur`an,” show that the stoning “verse” was part of the recited Qur`an. The words attributed to the Prophet’s, “now I cannot write it down” show that it was not included in the written Qur`an. We are not told why the stoning verse was not written down. But the following narration attempts an answer:

 

Muhammad bin Ja‘far related to us: Shu‘bah related to us from Qatadah from Yunus bin Jubayr from Kathir bin Salt who said:

Ibn al-‘As and Zayd bin Thabit were writing masahif when they came to this verse. Zayd said: I heard the Messenger of God saying: “al-shaykh and al-shaykhah when they commit zina` stone them outright”. Then ‘Umar said: “When this was revealed I went to the Messenger of God and said, Shall I write it?” Shu‘bah said, “It was as if he did not apporve of it.” ‘Umar said, “Do you not see that al-shaykh if not married is flogged and a youth who commits zina` while married is stoned”. (Ahmad 20613; Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani in Fath al-Bari and Jalal al Din al-Suyuti in his al-Itqan also cite this hadith.)

The reader should carefully note the words “Do you not see that al-shaykh if not married is flogged and a youth who commits zina` while married is stoned”. What is being said here is that stoning the “old” (the shaykh and the shaykhah) for zina` is not quite correct, since unmarried person will be flogged even if old and married person will be stoned even if young. This is why the “verse” of stoning was not added to the Qur`an!!!   So after using the stoning “verse” for supporting al-rajm, the supporters of al-rajm are now telling us that the stoning “verse” is not quite valid. The “verse” was meant to provide Qur`anic basis for the stoning penalty, but now we learn that this purpose was never really fulfilled. Note also that in the above ahadith ‘Umar finds the Prophet disapproving the inclusion of the verse into the Qur`an and yet in earlier narrations he himself would like to add it to the mushaf and the reason he gives in most narrations for not fulfilling his desire is not that the Prophet disapproved but that he feared that the people will disapprove it. Falsehood provides the strongest argument against itself if we patiently observe its ways long enough.

   

The stoning “verse”was a part of the written Qur`an but it got lost

 

While some traditions tell us that the stoning verse was never included in the written Qur`an, others assume that it was a part of the Qur`anic text. So why is it not found in our copies of the Holy Book? Here is one amazing answer:

 

’A`ishah said that the stoning “verse” and another verse were revealed and recorded on a sheet (sahifah) that was placed for safe-keeping under her bedding. When the Prophet fell ill and the household were preoccupied with nursing him, a domestic animal got in from the yard and ate the sheet. (Burhan al-Din al-Baji, Jawab)

 

There is nothing implausible about such an accident taking place. But what is amazing is that no step were taken by the Prophet and his Comapnions to correct the situation. God who promised to preserve the Qur`an, and the Prophet and the Companions who were the divinely chosen instruments to fulfill that promise, here appear as totally incompetent.

 

If the stoning “verse” was accidentally lost, why was it not restored to the Qur`an when its omission was noticed?

 

An answer to this question is attempted in the following tradition:

 

[It is reported by] Ibn Abi Shaybah concerning al-masahif from al-Layth bin Sa‘d who said: The first to collect the Qur`an was Abu Bakr and Zayd bin Thabit wrote it. And people came to Zayd bin Thabit (with the portions of the Qur`an) but Zayd did not write any verse (in the Qur`an) except with the testimony of two reliable witnesses. The last part of Surah Bara`ah was not found except with Khuzaymah bin Thabit. He said, “Write it, for the Messenger of God had declared the testimony of Khuzaymah equivalent to that of two men.” So he wrote it. And ‘Umar came with the verse of stoning but Zayd would not write it because ‘Umar was alone (in his testimony) (Al-Suyuti as quoted in ‘Awn al-Ma‘bud 3130)

 

This hadith is in direct contradiction with Ahmad 20613 quoted earlier. In Ahmad’s hadith, ‘Umar himself explains that the verse was not in the Qur`an because the Prophet did not want it written down and because it was not consistent with the Islamic law. Here ‘Umar comes to Zayd desiring to add the verse in the Qur`anic text! In Ahmad’s hadith Zayd is a witness to the verse, since he says, I heard the Messenger of God saying: “al-shaykh and al-shaykhah ….” [34] But in this hadith ‘Umar is the only witness who knew the stoning verse and hence Zayd bin Thabit refuses to include the verse in the Qur`anic text!

Stoning “verse” was part of the recited Qur`an but it was omitted from recitation as well

 

Although, according to some traditions, the Prophet would not approve the inclusion of the stoning “verse” in the written Qur`an, he did teach his followers its recitation:

Abu Usamah bin Sahl was told by his aunt that the Prophet had instructed them [people] in the reciting of the stoning verse. (Jalal al Din al- Suyuti, al-Itqan)

Despite the fact that the stoning “verse” was never consistent with the Islamic law about stoning and for that reason was, according to some traditions, not suitable for inclusion in the written Qur`an we are asked here to believe that the Prophet instructed the Companions in its recitation. But the verse vanishes even from the recited Qur`an, as we are told in the following tradition:

 

`Ali reported that the stoning “verse” had been sent down but those who memorized it together with other verses perished in the (battle of ) Yamamah. (Burhan al-Din al-Baji, Jawab).

 

If the spurious nature of this tradition is not obvious to the reader, then he or she may consider the following points:

 

First, not all the Companions died in the battle of Yamamah and it is improbable in the extreme that exactly those Companions died who had memorized the stoning verse.

 

Second, if the verse was neither in the mushaf nor in the memory of any of the Companions living after the battle of Yamamah, then how come some traditions are able to quote the “verse” (al-shaykh and al-shaykhah when they commit zina` stone them outright)? Apparently this question was not raised in early times and so there is no tradition trying to answer it.

 

Third, the above tradition is also in contradiction with those traditions mentioned earlier, according to which at least ‘Umar and Zayd remembered the verse during the “collection” of the Qur`an. This collection is said to have taken place after the battle of Yamamah.

 

Fourth, recall the tradition, much better attested than the one under consideration, in which ‘Ali had a woman called Sharahah [or Shurahah] flogged on Thursday and then stoned to death on Friday. In that tradition, ‘Ali says: “We flogged in accordance with the Book of God and stoned in accordance with the Sunnah of the Messenger of God.” If ‘Ali believed that the Qur`an included a verse about stoning, then he carried out both the flogging and the stoning in accordance with the Book of God. But this is clearly not what he is saying.

 

The Surah, in which the verse of stoning was  found

 

Some traditions deal with the question, In which Surah was the verse of stoning found? The answer provided is that the verse was in Surah al-Ahzab:

 

Ubayy asked Zirr bin Hubays, “How many verses do you recite in Surah al-Ahzab?' Zirr replied, 'Seventy-three verses.' Ubayy said: “That is all? I have seen it when it was the same length as Surah al-Baqarah. It contained the words

 

As for al-shaykh and al-shaykhah, when they commit zina` stone them to death outright, as exemplary punishment from God and God is mighty wise) (Al-Bayhaqi,  Sunan)

 

 Imagine! Not only the stoning “verse” vanishes from the Qur`an but also more than half of the whole of Surah al-Ahzab goes missing[35].

. 

 

Where and what ‘Umar would add to the Qur`an

 

In most narrations it is understood that ‘Umar would have written the stoning “verse” in the actual text of the Qur`an, possibly at the end of the Qur`an. In some traditions this is stated explicitly. Thus in one tradition, ‘Umar says:

Do not complain about stoning. It is just and I did think of write it in the mushaf. … . (Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari 6327).

According to John Burton, The Collection of the Qur`an, in the version of Muwatta 1297 that occurs in the Hulya, ‘Umar says:

 

“I would write at the end of the Qur'an.”

 

Apparently ‘Umar who in some narrations says that he and the other Companions used to recite the “verse” of stoning did not know that the “verse” was a part of Surah al-Ahzab, for, in none of the traditions he talks of al-Ahzab when he talks of adding the verse to the Qur`an.

 

In some traditions found in Sunan of al-Bayhaqi, al-Mabsut of Sarakhsi etc the verse would go to the margin of the mushaf. In other traditions it is not the stoning verse that goes to the margin but a testimony to the effect that al-rajm is sunnah. Thus in Yusuf bin Mihran’s narration of ‘Umar’s hadith, quoted earlier in full, ‘Umar says:

Were it not that some talkers would say that ‘Umar has added in the Book of God what is not a part of it I would have written it in the margin of the mushaf

‘Umar bin al-Khattab testifies (at one time Hushaym said: ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf and so-and-so testify”) that the Messenger of God did indeed carry out al-rajm and we carried it out after him. (Ahmad 151)

Although, in the above tradition from Musnad Ahmad, ‘Umar desists from adding the testimony of the Sunnah to al-rajm in the margin of the mushaf because people would say that he has added something in the Book of God, according to the following tradition he  made the addition and even some of the “people” joined him!

[`Umar summoned] a group of the Muhajirs and the Ansar and inscribe[d] their testimony on the margin of the mushaf: 'The testimony of `Umar and of NN that the Messenger of God stoned adulterers.' (Kitab al Mabani as quoted in John Burton, The Collection of the Qur`an from A. Jeffery, Two Muqaddimahs)

 

Here, in addition to the question why the talkers were not able to prevent ‘Umar from adding to the Book of God, we may ask: why was the testimony added to the margin of the mushaf needed if the Prophet and his Successors applied the penalty of stoning as many times as is suggested by the ahadith? The answer, as should become clearer and clearer as our study proceeds, is that these ahadith are not as reliable and mutawatir as it is claimed.

 

We thus see that the above traditions are fabrications, in which some supporters of al-rajm have tried to solve the difficulties raised by their belief in al-rajm. Each time they solved one difficulty by their stories, they created some more, which they then tried to solve by still more stories. May God guard us against the misleading power of the fabricators and those who too readily accept their concoctions. 



[1] A gharib hadith is one that is narrated by only one narrator at some stage of its transmission.

[2] By a “hidden defect” scholars mean a weakness in a hadith that becomes apparent when it is compared with other related narrations or known facts.  

[3] Ibn Sa‘d records: “It is transmitted from ‘Ali bin Zayd that Sa ‘id bin al-Musayyab was born four years  after ‘Umar became khalifah and died at the age of 84.” Talha bin Muhammad bin Sa‘id bin al-Musayyab transmitted from his father that Sa‘id was born two years before the death of ‘Umar and died at the age of 72.” “Muhammad bin ‘Umar said, The view on which I have seen agreement among people on the matter of the date of birth of Sa‘id bin al-Musayyab is that he was born two years after ‘Umar became khalifah. It is also reported that he heard ahadith from ‘Umar. I have not seen people of knowledge confirm this, even though they do transmit from him.” “Sa‘id bin al-Musayyab himself is reported to have said that he was born two years after ‘Umar became khalifah. His khilafah lasted for 10 years and four months.” Thus at the time of ‘Umar’s death Ibn al-Musayyab was between 2 to 8 years and the report that he heard ahadith from ‘Umar has no basis in the view of people of knowledge.  

There has been an extensive discussion on whether a mursal hadith, that is, a hadith narrated by a Successor without mentioning any Companion is acceptable. Opinions range from the view attributed to Imam Malik (d. 179), Imam Abu Hanifah (d. 150) and others, according to which a mursal hadith from a reliable Successor is as reliable as a musnad hadith (that is, a hadith with complete unbroken isnad) to the view of Ibn Hazm (d. 456) etc that rejects a mursal hadith outright. The view taken in this book is that the absence of a Companion in the isnad is one weakness in the hadith but the final decision to accept or reject such a hadith should be made on a case-by-case basis, using  an historical examination of the contents  of the hadith in the light of other reliable information that is available. This view is consistent with the traditional appraoch of many reputed scholars. Shafi’i, for example, suggests that for a mursal hadith to acceptable it should have some corroboration from other sources. More specifically : a) its contents shoud be reported also as musnad hadith through another isnad or as mursal hadith through another reliable source with a different isnad or be supported by the sayings of some Companions or by the opinions of a majority of scholars; b) its first narrator should be an elder Successor or should be a junior Successor who does not generally narrate ahadith from unreliable sources or his ahadith do not generally contradict other reliable narrators. Talking specifically of Ibn al-Musayyab, Shafi’i does say that his mursal ahadith are “sound”. But that does not mean that he would accept every hadith from him, since Shafi’i can reject a hadith from even a Companion like Ibn ‘Umar if he finds that it contradicts another hadith that he finds better supported.  

[4] Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri was a junior Successor who saw some Companions. But a vast majority of his ahadith are narrated from other, senior, Successors and so he is much more of a third-generation narrator than a second-generation one.

[5] Ahmad’s narration is from Malik but in the Muwatta Malik himself does not record the long narration.  

The references to overglorification of Jesus and the “verse” about disowning one’s real father are also found in a shorter narration in Ahmad:

‘Abd al-Razzaq related to us : Ma‘mar related to us from al-Zuhri from ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Utbah bin Mas‘ud from Ibn ‘Abbas from ‘Umar that he said:

God sent Muhammad with the truth and revealed the book to him, and part of what God revealed was the verse of stoning. God's Messenger did carry out stoning and so did we after him. And then he said: We used to recite: 'And do not claim to be the offspring of other than your fathers, as it is kufr (disbelief, unthankfulness) on your part”. Or, [we recited,] “It is surely kufr on your part to claim to be the offspring of other than your real father.” Then God's Messenger said, 'Do not praise me excessively as Jesus, son of Marry was praised, for I am only a slave (of God), so call me God's slave and his messenger.' Perhaps Ma‘mar said: “as Christians praised son of Mary”. (Ahmad 313, compare Bukhari 6328)

[6]. ‘Abd al-Rahman withdrew his name and proposed ‘Uthman as the khalifah and so became one of the villains of later Shi‘ah sect. He is probably being degraded here by a Shi‘ah-inspired tradition.

It is of some interest to recall here the following tradition:

Muhammad bin ‘Ar‘arah related to us: Shu‘bah related to us from Abu Bishr from Sa‘id bin Jubayr from Ibn ‘Abbas who said:

‘Umar bin al-Khattab used to admit Ibn ‘Abbas in his close company. ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf said to him. "We also have sons like him." ‘Umar said, "It is because of his knowledge." Then ‘Umar asked Ibn ‘Abbas about the interpretation of the verse: “When there came the help of God and the victory” (110:1) Ibn ‘Abbas said: "(It talks of ) the death of God’s Messenger that God had informed him of." ‘Umar said: "I do not know about it but what you know." (Bukhari 4/821, also 5/713)

Narrations of this tradition are found in Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhi, al-Bayhaqi, Ibn Jarir, Ibn Marduyah, Baghawi, Ibn al-Mundhir with, as usual, some variations. Most narrations do not mention ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf or any other particular person in connection with the comment “We also have sons like him”. The tradition and the reference to ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf, if historical, suggest that ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf  might not be inclined to make Ibn ‘Abbas his teacher. One may argue that after seeing a demonstration of Ibn ‘Abbas’ knowledge he might have changed his mind, but the example given of Ibn ‘Abbas’ knowledge is not very convincing: the interpretation Ibn ‘Abbas gives of 110:1 reads too much into the Qur`anic text in the manner of Shi‘ah interpretations in favor of ‘Ali..  

[7] Ibn Ishaq only mentions the stoning of a Jewish couple. But this stoning , which we will discuss in detail in Chapter 6, takes place according to the Jewish law. 

[8] It is interesting that while Malik’s own book does not mention the stoning verse in the narration of ‘Ubayd Allah, when Malik is quoted by Ahmad and Darimi the stoning verse gets introduced in his narration. This is one of numerous examples that show that during the process of transmission narrations acquire elements from other sources that are not named.  

The narration from Ahmad reads:  

‘Abd al-Rahman related to us: Malik related to us from al-Zuhri from ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah from Ibn ‘Abbas who said:  

God raised Muhammad and sent down the book to him. Part of what God sent down to him was the verse of al-rajm; we recited it, we minded it, and we understood it. God’s Messenger did carry out stoning and so did we after him. I am afraid that after a long time has passed people will say that they find no mention of al-rajm in God's Book and thus they will leave an obligation sent down by God. Surely, al-rajm in the Book of God is a just claim on married men and women who commit zina` if there is direct evidence (of witnesses) or conception or confession (Ahmad 265). 

The narration from Darimi reads: 

Khalid bin Makhlad informed us: Malik related to us from al-Zuhri from ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Utbah from Ibn ‘Abbas who said that ‘Umar bin al-Khattab said:  

Surely God raised Muhammad with the truth and revealed to him the book. In what he revealed there was the verse of al-rajm. We recited it, we understood it and memorized it. So the Messenger of God stoned and we stoned after him. I am afraid that when a long time passes someone will say we do not find stoning in the Book of God. But al-rajm is justly required in the Book of God for men and women when anyone commits zina` while married and there is direct evidence or there is pregnancy or there is confession. (Darimi 2219) 

In addition, Ahmad  368 is also from Malik. It is a long narration like that of Ibn Ishaq but nothing like that is found in the Muwatta.

[9] That Bukhari’s third narration (6778) is derived from a narration similar to that of Ibn Ishaq is shown by the fact that it repeats in detail the account found in Ibn Ishaq of events leading up to Umar’s khutbah. The khutbah itself is not quoted in full; only its first significant sentence is given, which is exactly as in Ibn Ishaq: 

 “Surely, God sent Muhammad with the truth and revealed to him the Book, and a part of what was revealed was a verse about stoning.” (Bukhari 6778)  

To understand how this shorter narration was derived from the longer narration we need to note that Bukhari 6778 occurs in the chapter dealing with Makkah and Madinah as places where the Prophetic heritage was to be found. The part of the hadith that is particularly relevant to this subject is where ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf advises ‘Umar to postpone his khutbah till he reached Madinah, “the place of al-hijrah and the place of al-sunnah”. The actual speech of ‘Umar is not considered relevant here; therefore only the first significant sentence of the speech is quoted.  

[10]Ibn Majah’s narration from Sufyan reads in full:

Abu Bakr bin Abi Shaybah and Muhammad bin Sabbah related to us: Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah related to us from al-Zuhri from ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Utbah from Ibn ‘Abbas who said:

‘Umar bin al-Khattab said: I indeed fear that as time passes someone will say, I do not find al-rajm in the Book of God and thus people are led astray by abandoning an obligation from among the obligations of God. Beware! Verily, the penalty of al-rajm is justly laid on whoever commits zina` and is married and there is direct evidence (of witnesses) or there is pregnancy or confession. The Messenger of God stoned and we stoned after him. And we did recite: “al-shaykh and al-shaykhah when they commit zina` stone them outright” (Ibn Majah 2543)

Notice that this narration is substantially the same as the one from Bukhari except for two important differences: 1) The words “the Messenger of God stoned and we stoned after him,” which in Bukhari appear in a note become here a part of Sufyan’s narration. 2) A reference not only to a stoning verse but also its wording also gets added.

Ibn Hajar in his Fath al-Bari cites another narration from Sufyan like that of Ibn Majah. This narration is reported, as in Bukhari, from ‘Ali bin ‘Abd Allah. Ibn Hajar says that Buhkari omitted deliberately the sentence, “We used to recite it, ‘the shaykh and the shaykhah, when they commit zina`, stone them outright’.". But in all the narrations of the tradition from Ibn Shihab found in Ibn Ishaq, Muwatta, Bukhari, and Muslim, the actual wording of the stoning “verse” is not given, even when the existence of the  verse is asserted or assumed. It is thus probable that if Bukhari did remove the sentence, he had a good reason for doing so and he only made the narration more faithful to the original narration as transmitted by al-Zuhri.  

[11] For the words “sent down”, see our ealier discussion of Bukhari 6327.

[12] Ahmad 192 reads: 

Hushaym related to us: al-Zuhri related to us from ‘Ubayd Allah bin ‘Utbah bin Mas‘ud: ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Abbas informed me: ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf related to me that ‘Umar bin al-Khattab addressed the people and he heard him say:  

Beware of people who say what is al-rajm? (Is not) in the Book of God (there is only) flogging? The Messenger of God indeed carried out al-rajm and we carried it out after him. Were it not that talkers will talk and speakers will speak saying that ‘Umar added to the Book of God what is not part of it, I will have written it as it was sent down (Ahmad 192). 

[13] There are striking similarities between Ahmad 192 and Ahmad 333 and equally striking differences between Ahmad 192 and other narrations from al-Zuhri. These similarities and differences include: First, in both Ahmad 192 and 333 Ibn ‘Abbas narrates on the authority of ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf while in almost all the other narrations from al-Zuhri he narrates on his own authority. One exception is Ibn Ishaq’s narration, which menions ‘Abd al-Rahman in the isnad but quotes Ibn ‘Abbas.  Second, in both narrations – as the words “there are (or beware of) people who say” show -- the people who reject al-rajm on the grounds that it is not mentioned in the Qur`an are present in the time of ‘Umar while in al-Zuhri’s all other narrations such people appear in the future after the passage of some time. Third, in both narrations the objection of the opponents is expressed in similar words: “What is al-rajm? (Is not) in the Book of God (there is only) flogging?” But in all other narrations from al-Zuhri the objection is worded differently, often, something like: “We do not find stoning in the Book of God …”. Fourth, in both narrations ‘Umar expresses a desire to add a statement about stoning in the Qur`an while other narrations from Ibn Shihab contain nothing of the kind.  

There is one way in which Ahmad 333 is more similar to some of al-Zuhri’s other narrations than to Ahmad 192. Thus Ahmad 333, unlike Ahmad 192, assumes a context for ‘Umar’s speech similar to the one described in Ibn Ishaq’s narration, as is shown by ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf’s words: “All kinds of riffraff (ra‘a) have gathered around you (in the season of hajj), so delay it till you go to Madinah. 

In view of the facts pointed out above, there are two possibilities worth considering: 

1)       Both narrations come from Sa‘d bin Ibrahim, so that the attribution of Ahmad 192 to al-Zuhri is a mistake. In this case, it is probable that the reference to the background of ‘Umar’s speech has entered the narration in Ahmad 333 under the influence of much better-known narrations from al-Zuhri. This is further supported by a change from the third person to the first person in the narration. Notice that the narration begins with: ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf said. Then after the narration by ‘Abd al-Rahman has started he refers to himself in the third person, saying, ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Awf said (to ‘Umar). Then the narration changes into the first person: “ I sat close to him near the minbar”. This can probably be best explained in terms of some influence from al-Zuhri’s narrations, in which the narrator is Ibn ‘Abbas who refers to ‘Abd al-Rahman in the third person and to himself in the first person. This suggests that the background of ‘Umar’s speech in Ahmad 333 that is not found in Ahmad 192 was added later under the influence of al-Zuhri’s narrations.  

2)       Both narrations come from al-Zuhri, so that the attribution of Ahmad 333 to Sa‘d bin Ibrahim is a mistake. But this possibility is less likely. For, it requires us to assume that some narrator after al-Zuhri made the narration significantly different from other narrations of al-Zuhri. But in that case it is difficult to see how the narrators Muhammad bin Ja‘far, Hajjaj and Hushaym came to agree on this different narration.  The simplest explanation of similarities between Ahmad 192 and 333 and their difference with other narrations of al-Zuhri is that Hushaym heard the narration of Sa‘d bin Ibrahim and then attributed it to al-Zuhri. It should be noted that Hushaym (bin Bashir bin al-Qasim) [d. 183] though considered thiqah, is also said to do tadlis, that is, attribute narrations to people without hearing from them. 

In the light of the above discussion we conclude that the narration of Sa‘d bin Ibrahim came under the influence of al-Zuhri’s much better-known narrations. In Ahmad 333 this influence resulted in the addition of some sentences about the background of ‘Umar’s khutbah while in Ahmad 192 it resulted in the replacement of Sa‘d himself by al-Zuhri in the isnad. If so, then here we have an example showing that both the isnad and the contents of a hadith were subject to changes during the process of transmission. 

[14] The narration is weak because its narrators are not considered dependable. Hushaym (d. 183) receives fair comments from scholars, but ‘Ali bin Zayd (d. 131) receives mostly negative comments like “not strong”. The same is the case with Yusuf bin Mihran (date of death unknown) about whom Ahmad bin Hanbal says “not recognized” and Abu Da`ud says, “I do not know of anyone who transmits from him except ‘Ali bin Zayd”. Furthermore, the narration obviously makes some additions to the earlier tradition. Notice the last part of this tradition. In most reports about ‘Umar’s sermon, we only have a mention of al-rajm and its rejection by some people. But now we have a whole list of other issues on which people differed – al-Dajjal, intercession etc. Clearly, some transmitter has made additions to the earlier tradition to serve his own purpose. The supporters of al-rajm who put such trust in the Hadith collections should take note of this. This type of tempering with earlier tradition is also found in the traditions recorded in the best four collections – Ibn Ishaq, Muwatta, Bukhari and Muslim. This is why we have different narrations even in these books coming from the same transmitter. 

[15] There are three persons named Yahya that are connected with narrations of ‘Umar’s hadith from Ibn al-Musayyab. The earliest is Yahya bin Sa‘id bin Qays al-Ansari [d. 143] who narrates from Ibn al-Musayyab. Then there is Yahya ibn Sa‘id bin Farukh [d. 198] from whom Ahmad narrates. Finally, there is Yahya al-Laythi [d. 234] who is one of more than 100 persons who transmitted the Muwatta from Imam Malik.

[16] halaka means to perish or be destroyed or ruined.

‘an primarily means “from,” which can lead to several usages: 1) “from a location in space”. Thus ‘an sath al-bahr means “from sea level” (above or below).2) “from a point in time”, that is, “after”. For example, yawman ‘an yawm, day after day; mat ‘an sittin sanah, died at the age of 60 (that is, after a life of 60); ‘an qalil, after a little while, soon. 3)  “out of” in the sense of “on the basis of, on account of , by means of”. For example, ‘an khawf, out of fear; ‘an ‘ilm, on the basis of (sound) knowledge.   

Depending on the meaning of ‘an, there are two ways to translate halaka ‘an: 1) “vanish from”; 2) “perish on account of”. Both meanings can be illustrated from the Qur`an. Thus, the first sense is used in halaka ‘anni sultaniyah (69:29), which means “my power (or argument) has vanished from me”. The second sense is used in  li yahlika man halaka ‘an bayyinah wa yahya man hayya ‘an bayyinah (8:42), which means “so that whoever perishes may perish on the basis of  clear evidence and whoever lives may live on the basis of clear evidence”.  

Thus tahliku ‘an `ayah al-rajm may mean either “vanish from the verse of stoning” in the sense of leaving it or “perish on account of the verse of stoning”. The second meaning is more natural and preferable.

[17] For an examination of the historicity of the Aslami man’s stoning see Chapter 7.

[18] This is suggested by the following tradition: 

This part of the hadith in Aumad 20613 is also found in a narration in Darimi:

Muhammad bin Yazid al-Rifai informed us: al-‘Aqdi related to us: Shu‘bah related to us from Qatadah from Yunus bin Jubayr who transmitted from Kathir bin Salt from Zayd bin Thabit:

I testify that I heard the Messenger of God saying: “al-shaykh and al-shaykhah when they commit zina` stone them outright” (Darimi 2220)

Here the words “I heard the Messenger of God saying” suggest that the stoning “verse” was at one point a “hadith”. 

[19] This is suggested by Yusuf bin Mihran’s narration.

[20] The Hadith contains many examples of this. Thus in Bukhari 2745, Muslim 2662 etc the Prophet asks Jabir: “Did you marry a bikr or thayyab?” Here, clearly, thayyab cannot mean “married”.

[21] Perhaps the idea in the stoning “verse” is also connected with the following hadith that specially condemns an old man who commits zina`:

Abu Bakr bin Abi Shaybah related to us: Waki‘ and Abu Mu‘awiyah related to us from al-‘Amash from Abu Hazim from Abu Hurayrah who said:

The Messenger of God said, "There are three people with whom God will not speak on the Day of Rising nor purify them (and according to Abu Mu‘awiyah, nor look at them) and they will have a painful punishment: an old fornicator/adulterer (shaykh zan), a lying ruler and an arrogant destitute." (Muslim 156; compare Ahmad 7131, 9222, 9836)   

[22] The Khwarij had some very extreme views inconsistent with the teachings of the Prophet but this does not mean that they were wrong in every matter. In the matter of the punishment for adultery, it is the mainstream Muslims who have the more extreme and un-Islamic view. That the view is more extreme is clear because stoning to death is a more extreme punishment than flogging. That the view is un-Islamic should hopefully become clear to the reader after reading this book.

[23] Most of the quotations that follow are from Harith Sulayman al-Dari, Al-Imam al-Zuhri wa Athar hu fi al-Sunnah and  Shehzad Saleem, “The Controversial Personality of Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri”, available on the internet. Al-Dari defends al-Zuhri but while he makes some valid points, the study of the ahadith transmitted by al-Zuhri shows that negative comments about him do have validity.

[24] In the nine books covered in the Hadith Encyclopedia there are only seven ahadith with asanid including Sulayman, three of them are in Tirmidhi (48, 1444, 1445) and two in Nasa`i (3779, 4771). Tirmidhi says that Sulayman is “considered da‘if by the people of Hadith” while Nasa`i says that he is “matruk al-hadith”.  

[25] In fact al-Zuhri and Sulayman are very closely connected. With one exception (Ibn Majah 252), all the ahadith in the nine books in the Hadith Encyclopedia that have Sulayman in their asanid also have al-Zuhri along with Sulayman. In four of the seven ahadith al-Zuhri narrates from Sulayman (Tirmidhi 1444, 1445, Nasa`i 3779, Abu Da`ud 2864) while in two of them Sulayman narrates from al-Zuhri (Tirmidhi 48, Nasa`i 4771). When al-Zuhri narrates from Sulayman, Sulayman narrates from Yahya bin Kathir who is described as thiqah thabt but is said to do tadlis and irsal. This Yahya died in 134 while al-Zuhri died in 125. The date of Sulayman’s death is not given in the Hadith Encyclopedia.   

[26] Even when uttered by human beings the word is mostly used in connection with mushrikun or kafirun. There are two exceptions, 5:31, where a different form of the word is used by the wife of Ibrahim to express surprise at the prediction that she will bear a son and 11:72, where one of the sons of Adam uses the word to express regret at the murder of his brother.   

[27] A common image of ‘Umar among Muslims is that of a man who was very emotional and strict, but the real ‘Umar was probably a man of very sound knowledge and wisdom, even more than ‘Ali whom tradition has turned into a symbol of knowledge. This is clear from the very title that the Prophet gave him – al-faruq, one who is capable of making fine distinctions and hence of separating right from wrong, and truth from falsehood that often appear to be confusingly mixed. His achievements as the leader of the Muslims and the following hadith also point to that direction:  

Muhammad bin al-Salt Abu Ja‘far al-Kufi related to us: Ibn al-Mubarak related to us from Yunus from al-Zuhri: Hamzah informed me from his father that  

the Messenger of God said: “While I was sleeping, I saw myself drinking, that is, drinking milk, so much that I saw the milk flowing through my nails. Then I gave it to 'Umar to drink." They asked: "How do you interpret it?" He said: "Knowledge." (Bukhari 5/30) 

[28] Malik related to me from Yahya bin Sa‘id from Sulayman bin Yasar from Abu Waqid al-Laythi that  

a man came to ‘Umar bin al-Khattab while he was in al-Sham . He mentioned to him that he had found a man with his wife. ‘Umar sent Abu Waqid al-Laythi to the wife to question her about that. He came to her while there were women around her and told her what her husband had told ‘Umar bin al-Khattab. He informed her that she would not be punished on his word and thus suggested to her she may challenge (her husband’s statement). She refused to challenge and thus completed her confession. ‘Umar gave the order and she was stoned. (Muwatta 41:9)[29] In the present time, DNA testing can exclude the husband as the father of the child, before or after the birth, and thus establish adultery. But the laws in Islam were originally formulated in relation to conditions existing in the earlier times than in relation to present-day conditions, although they can be easily adapted for any time and place through ijtihad.  This is true even of those laws that are explicitly given in the Qur`an and authentic Hadith. This is all the more true of those laws derived by subsequent Muslims using their ijtihad.  

[30] One thinks here of the following story: 

Yahya bin Sa‘id (bin Farukh) related to us from Mujalid: ‘Amir related to us, saying:  

Sharahah had a husband who had gone to Sham. She got pregnant and her mawla brought her to ‘Ali bin Abi Talib. He said: This (lady) has committed zina`. She confessed and so ‘Ali flogged her 100 times on Thursday and stoned her on Friday, digging for her a hole upto her navel (surrah) while I witnessed. Then ‘Ali said: “Al-rajm is a sunnah that the Messenger of God established. If someone testified against her he would be the first to cast (a stone). A witness testifies and follows his testimony with his stone. But since she confessed, I will be the first to cast (a stone) at her.” So he cast a stone at her and then the people cast stones, I being one of them. By God, I was among those who killed her. (Ahmad 931) 

This tradition, even ignoring the fact that it was shown to be unreliable in Chapter 2, does not establish that pregnancy can be a proof of zina`. To the contrary, in the story the guilt is established by the woman’s confession and not by her pregnancy, even though her mawla knew that her husband was not present to make her pregnant. 

There is also the case of a married woman who delivers the child in much less than nine months after marriage. This case is mentioned in the following tradition: 

Malik related to me that he had heard that ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan was brought a woman who had given birth after six months [of marriage] and he ordered her to be stoned. ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib said to him, "She does not deserve that. God, the Blessed, the Exalted, says in his Book, 'Their carrying and weaning is thirty months,' (46:15) and he also said, 'Mothers suckle their children for two full years for whoever wishes to complete the suckling.' (2:233) Pregnancy can therefore be for six months. So she does not deserve to be stoned." ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan sent for her and found that she had already been stoned. (Muwatta 41/11).

However, in this case, it is not pregnancy by itself but timing of delivery that can establish zina`. Since marriage is a public affair, the time between it and delivery of the child can be determined and used in a court of law. This is not the case with the sexual intercourse between a husband and wife which is, of course, a very private affair.  

[31] There are numerous examples of changes in the earlier traditions. One such example is provided by the very saying of ‘Umar that we are presently discussing. In Muwatta and Muslim the word for pregnancy is al-habal, which is probably the original word. But in the narration of Bukhari 8/818 the word is al-haml. Someone changed the original word by another that was more familiar to him. In this case, the change does not effect the meaning, but in many examples the changes can impose on the original text  transmitter’s own interpretation. For some very clear examples see Ahmad Shafaat, “A Study of Ahadith about the Determination of Islamic Dates”. 

[32] There are serious weaknesses in these ahadith. For example, the hadith from Tirmidhi has, as one of its transmitters, Yazid bin Ziyad al-Damishqi who is described by Bukhari as munkaral-hadith and by Nasa`i as matruk al-hadith. Also, the hadith is found in several narrations as a saying of one or the other of the Companions and not as a saying of the Prophet.  

[33] This is true of the shorter version of Nasa`i known as Sunan al-Sughra. The longer version, Sunan al-Kubra, does contain some traditions other than ‘Umar’s hadith.

[34] This part of the hadith in Aumad 20613 is also found in Darimi 2220, which was quoted earlier. 

[35] There are some traditions that without mentioning the stoning verse allege that more than half of Surah al-Ahzab is missing from the extant copies of the Qur`an: 

‘Aishah said that Surah al-Ahzab used to be recited, in the lifetime of the Prophet, as having 200 verses, but when ‘Uthman wrote out the mushaf, all they could find was its present length. (Jalal al Din al-Suyuti, al-Itqan)  

Some scholars have tried to explain this in terms of naskh by supposing that withdrawal of verses  from a surah is one of the modes of naskh.


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