Mismatch over the punishment for adultery

No discussion of the Muslim stories about the collection of the Qur'an can leave out the scholarship of John Burton. Burton published one of the first modern studies on this topic in 1972*; and 30 years later he wrote the entry on this topic for The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an. In between, he published his book The Collection of the Qur'an (Cambridge University Press, 1977).

Burton was one of the first to point out that since Muslim traditions on the Qur'an are part of the hadith literature, they should be subjected to the same scrutiny to which Ignaz Goldziher and Joseph Schacht subjected legal hadith. Burton found the Muslim stories on the collection "confused and contradictory." One of his most interesting discoveries was early Muslim distinctions between the "Qur'an" (the recitations in their entirety) and the mushaf (the text as it exists). These distinctions related especially to supposed rulings in the "Qur'an" which had not made their way into the mushaf.

The test case for this concept was the fact that though Islamic Law prescribes the stoning penalty for adultery, and though jurists are agreed that this was part of the sunna of Islam's messenger, the stoning penalty is not found in the mushaf (cf. Q24.2). How then to deal with this apparent mismatch between the word of God and the practice of the messenger? Burton explained that some Muslim scholars simply concluded that in this case sunna takes precedence over Qur'an. Other scholars said no, the messenger would not have given a ruling which was not in the Qur'an. God must have revealed to the messenger a verse commanding stoning which for some reason did not make it into the mushaf.

Muslim jurists created the collection stories, Burton suggested, to account for this and other legal anomalies. Burton reasoned that the jurists did not want it to be said that the collection had been completed before the death of the messenger, lest they not have the freedom to allow for alleged omissions in the actual text of scripture. In any case, Burton concluded that all of the Muslim stories of the collection of the Qur'an were fabricated.

This research seems to pull in two different directions. One is toward an early Muslim uncertainty that the actual text of the Qur'an contained everything that in their view God revealed to the messenger. The other is the suggestion that Muslims stories of the collection, so prized by some Muslims in interfaith polemic, are not trustworthy. In which direction would you take John Burton's research?

*Glasgow University Oriental Society, Transactions xxiii, 1969-70 (1972).