Sura Al-Baqarah (Tafseer-ul-Maariful Quran), Part-72

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Injunctions and related considerations
The Israelites were punished for having changed a word ordained by Allah, and substituted a phrase of their own invention, thus distorting the meaning itself. According to the consensus of the Fuqaha' (Muslim jurists), a change in the words of the Holy Qur'an, or of a Hadith, or of a divine commandment which invents or distorts the actual meaning is impermissible.

This should be obvious enough. But there is another question -- is it permissible to change the words in such a way that the mneaning does not suffer but remains intact? In his commentary, Imam al-Qurtubi says that in certain texts and in certain kinds of speech the words are as much a part of the intention as the meanings and equally necessary for conveying an idea, and that in such a case it is not permissible to change the words. For example, in the Adhan (the call for prayers) it is not permissible to employ words other than those which have been laid down for the purpose by the hadith. Similar is the case of the Salah: the different things to be recited in them (like Subhanaka Alluhumma, At-Tahiyydt, Qunut) or the glorification of Allah during the Ruku' (bowing down) and the Sajdah (prostration) -- all these must be said exactly in the words which have been reported in the hadith; substituting other words is not allowed, even if the meaning does not undergo a change.

This rule applies to each and every word of the Holy Qur'an. All the Injunctions with regard to the recitation of the Holy Qur'an strictly pertain to those words alone which Allah has revealed to the Holy Prophet (SM) . According to the hadith, the merit of reciting the  

Holy Qur'an is so great that for every letter that one reads or recltes one gets the reward which one would get for performing ten good deeds. But if one reads a very accurate translation of the Holy Qur'an or even an Arabic version in which the original words have been replaced by certain other words without injuring the sense, the Shari'ah shall not accept it as a recitation of the Holy Qur'an, and one will not get any reward of recitation for it. For, it is not the meanings alone which constitute the Holy Qur'an; "Qur'an" is the name of meanings inherent in the words revealed by Allah to the Holy Prophet (SM) so that the two are inseparable from each other.

It appears from the present verse that Allah had commanded the Israelites to say this particular word, Hit-tatun, while offering their Taubah (repentance), and hence changing the ordained word was in itself a sin. They went so far as to distort even the meaning, and drew upon themselves the divine punishment.

Now, as for other kinds of speech in which it is the meanings that are really intended and not the words, the masters of the science of Hadith and the jurists in general believe that in such places words can be changed provided that the meaning does not suffer but remains intact. Al-Qurtub: has cited Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik and Imam Shafi'i; as holding the view that it is quite permissible to report a hadrth with regard to its meaning alone provided that the man who reports it should have a perfect knowledge of the Arabic language and also be familiar with the situation to which this particular kadith pertains, so that he should not misinterpret the text or distort the sense.

On the other hand, certain masters of the science of Hdith do not allow the slightest change in the words of a hadith, and insist that it should be reported exactly in the words in which one has received it. This, for example, is the view of Muhammad ibn Sirin, Qasim ibn Muhammad etc. Some of them even insist that if in reporting a hadith a reporter has made a lexical mistake, the man who has heard the hadith from him must, in his own turn, report it in exactly the same words including the mistake, only indicating what the correct word is likely to be. Such scholars cite a hadith in support of their view. It has been reported that the Holy Prophet (SM) advised a man to say this prayer before going to sleep at night: امنت بكتابك الذي انزلت وبنبيك الذي ارسلت :"I have faith in Your Book which You have made to descend, and in Your prophet whom You have sent." The prescribed prayer had the word Nabiyy (Prophet), but the man changed it for Rasul (Messenger). The Holy Prophet (SM) Instructed him not to make a change, but to say the prescribed word Nabiyy. This shows that it is not permissible to change a single word in reporting a hadith. Similarly, another hadith says: نضر الله امرأ سمع مقالتي فبلغها كما سمعها : "May Allah make the man flourish who heard my speech, and then conveyed it exactly as he had heard." This also indicates that it is necessary to report the exact words of a hadith as one has received them.

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