I do not know how widespread it is, but it certainly does exist. Of hard evidence that I have personally seen, there is the work that I am currently translating, Kitab al-adhkar [The book of remembrances of Allah] by Imam Nawawi. The text that Nawawi wrote in the Book of Hajj of the Adhkar reads:
“Section: The Visit to the Tomb of the Messenger of Allah (Allah Bless Him and Give Him Peace), and the Remembrances of Allah Made There”Know that everyone who performs the hajj should set out to visit the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), whether it is on one’s way or not, for visiting him (Allah bless him and give him peace) is one of the most important acts of worship, the most rewarded of efforts, and best of goals.
When one sets out to perform the visit, one should do much of the blessings and peace upon him (Allah bless him and give him peace) on the way. And when one’s eye falls on the trees of Medina, and its sanctum and landmarks, one should increase saying the blessings and peace upon the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), asking Allah Most High to benefit one by one’s visit to him (Allah bless him and give him peace), and grant one felicity in this world and the next through it. One should say, “O Allah, open for me the doors of Your mercy, and bestow upon me, through the visit to the tomb of Your prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), that which You have bestowed upon Your friends, those who obey You. Forgive me and show me mercy, O Best of Those Asked” (al-Adhkar al-Nawawiyya, 283–84).
In the 1409/1988 printing of this work, published by Dar al-Huda in Riyad, Saudi Arabia, under the inspection and approval of the Riyasa Idara al-Buhuth al-‘Ilmiyya wa al-Ifta’ or “Presidency of Supervision of Scholarly Studies and Islamic Legal Opinion,” the same section has been changed to agree with Ibn Taymiya’s view that setting out to visit the Prophet’s tomb (Allah bless him and give him peace) is disobedience. (It only becomes permissible, according to this point of view, if one intends visiting the mosque of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).) The re-formed version reads as follows, italics showing the alterations made to Nawawi’s text:
“Section: The Visit to the Mosque of the Messenger of Allah (Allah Bless Him and Give Him Peace) [deletion]”
Know that it is preferable, for whoever wants to visit the Mosque of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), [deletion] to make much of the blessings and peace upon him (Allah bless him and give him peace) on the way. And when one’s eye falls on the trees of Medina, and its sanctum and landmarks, to increase saying the blessings and peace upon the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), asking Allah Most High to benefit one by one’s visit to his mosque(Allah bless him and give him peace), and grant one felicity in this world and the next through it. One should say: “O Allah, open for me the doors of Your mercy, and bestow upon me, through the visit to the mosque of Your prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), that which You have bestowed upon Your friends, those who obey You. Forgive me and show me mercy, O Best of Those Asked” (al-Adhkar, 295).
The same printing has completely dropped nearly a half page of the section of tawassul (supplicating Allah through the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)) when visiting the Prophet’s tomb—apparently to promote the Wahhabi doctrine that this is shirk or “assigning co-sharers to Allah.”
They have attributed the above words to Imam Nawawi without mentioning that it has been altered in any way.
This should not surprise Westerners, who have had before them Muhammad Muhsin Khan’s translation of Sahih al-Bukhari for some years now. In it, we find Bukhari’s heading about the effects of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace): “and of his hair, his sandals, and his vessels, of that which his Companions and others used to obtain blessings through after his death (yatabarraka bihi As-habuhu wa ghayruhum ba‘da wafatihi),” in which the words yatabarraka bihi have been rendered as “were considered as blessed things” in the English (Khan, Sahih al-Bukhari, 4.218). The Arabic verb tabarraka bihi signifies “He had a blessing; and he was, or became, blest; by means of him, or it” (Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, 1.193), or often, “he looked for a blessing by means of,” or “regarded as a means of obtaining a blessing from,” him or it (ibid.)—in either case actually obtaining, or hoping to obtain, a blessing by means of these things, a nuance quite different from the passive “were considered as blessed,” which does not entail any special benefit from them.
Or consider the seventy-three-page “introduction” to volume one of this same translation, a tract that explains the Muslim Trinity: Tawhid al-Rububuyya, Tawhid al-Uluhiyya, and Tawhid al-Asma wa al-Sifat—the (1) Tawhid of Lordship, (2) Tawhid of Godhood, and (3) Tawhid of Names and Attributes. By way of preface to it, Dr. Khan notes that many Western converts enter Islam without knowing what belief in the Oneness of Allah really means. He clarifies that tawhid is not one; namely, to say and believe the shahada of Islam with complete conviction—as it was from the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) until the advent of Ibn Taymiya seven centuries later—as new converts might imagine, but must now be three in order to be one, and cannot be one without being three. While such logic may be already familiar to converts from Christianity, Imam Bukhari (d. 256/870) certainly never knew anything of it, and its being printed as an “introduction” to his work seems to me to qualify as “tampering with classical texts”—aside from being a re-form of traditional ‘aqida, in which Islam, in the words of the Prophet of Islam (Allah bless him and give him peace), “is to testify that there is no god except Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah . . .” (Sahih Muslim, 1.37: 8).
Another example is found in the commentary of the famous Maliki scholar Ahmad Sawi (d. 1241/1825) on the Qur’anic exegesis Tafsir al-Jalalaynof Jalal al-Din Mahalli and Jalal al-Din Suyuti, in which he says of the verse “Truly, the Devil is an enemy to you, so take him as an enemy: he only calls his party to become of the inhabitants of the blaze” (Qur’an 35:6): It is said this verse was revealed about the Kharijites [foretelling their appearance], who altered the interpretation of the Qur’an and sunna, on the strength of which they declared it lawful to kill and take the property of Muslims—as may now be seen in their modern counterparts; namely, a sect in the Hijaz called “Wahhabis,” who “think they are on something, truly they are the liars. Satan has gained mastery over them and made them forget Allah’s remembrance. Those are Satan’s party, truly Satan’s party, they are the losers” (Qur’an 58:18–19). We ask Allah Most Generous to extirpate them completely (Sawi: Hashiya al-Sawi ‘ala al-Jalalayn, 3.255). This passage is quoted from the ‘Isa al-Babi al-Halabi edition published in Cairo around the 1930s. It was also printed in its entirety in the Maktaba al-Mashhad al-Husayni edition (3.307–8) published in Cairo in 1939, which was reproduced by offset by Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi (3.307–8) in Beirut in the 1970s. By the early 1980s, the Salafi movement, or oil money, or some combination of the two, had generated enough of a market to tempt Dar al-Fikr in Beirut to offset the same old printing, but with a surreptitious change. In the third volume, part of the bottom line of page 307 and the top line of 308 have been whited out, eliminating the words “namely, a sect in the Hijaz called ‘Wahhabis,’” venally bowdlerizing the whole point of what the author is trying to say about the modern counterparts of the Kharijites in order to sell it to them. The deletion was virtually indistinguishable from an ordinary spacing mistake, coming as it does at the ends of the two pages, though Dar al-Fikr made up for any technical shortcomings in this respect in 1993 with a newly typeset four-volume version of Hashiya al-Sawi ‘ala al-Jalalayn, which its title page declares to be “a new and corrected (munaqqaha) printing.” The above passage appears on page 379 of the third volume with the same wording as the previous coverup, but this time in a continuous text, so no one would ever guess that Sawi’s words had been removed.
Or consider the example from the two-volume Qur’anic exegesis of Abu Hayyan al-Nahwi (d. 754/1353), Tafsir al-nahr al-madd [The exegesis of the far-stretching river] condensed mainly from his own previous eight-volume exegesis al-Bahr al-muhit [The encompassing sea], arguably the finest tafsir ever written based primarily on Arabic grammar. Abu Hayyan, of Andalusion origin, settled in Damascus, knew Ibn Taymiya personally, and held him in great esteem, until the day that Barinbari (d. 717/1317) brought him a work by Ibn Taymiya called Kitab al-‘arsh [The book of the Throne]. There they found, in Ibn Taymiya’s own handwriting (which was familiar to Abu Hayyan), anthropomorphic suggestions about the Deity that made Abu Hayyan curse Ibn Taymiya until the day he died. This was mentioned by the hadith master (hafiz) Taqi al-Din Subki in hisal-Sayf al-saqil (85). Abu Hayyan, in his own Qur’anic exegesis of Ayat al-Kursi (Qur’an 2:258) in surat al-Baqara, recorded something of what so completely changed his mind: I have read in the book of Ahmad ibn Taymiya, this individual whom we are the contemporary of, and the book is in his own handwriting, and he has named it Kitab al-‘arsh [The book of the Throne], that “Allah Most High is sitting (yajlisu) on the Kursi but has left a place of it unoccupied, in which to seat the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace)” [italics mine]. Al-Taj Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Abd al-Haqq Barinbari fooled him [Ibn Taymiya] by pretending to be a supporter of his so that he could get it from him, and this is what we read in it (al-Nahwi, Tafsir al-nahr al-madd, 1.254). This is of interest not only because it documents (at the pen of one of Islam’s greatest scholars) that Ibn Taymiya had a “double ‘aqida,” one for the public, and a separate anthropomorphic one for an inner circle of initiates—but also because when Abu Hayyan’s work was first printed on the margin of his longer exegesis al-Bahr al-muhit in Cairo by Matba‘a al-Sa‘ada in 1910, the whole passage was deleted—intentionally, as the guilty party later confessed to Muhammad Zahid Kawthari, who quotes the above passage in a footnote toal-Sayf al-saqil and then says:
This sentence is not in the printed exegesis al-Bahr [al-muhit], for the copy editor at Matba‘a al-Sa‘ada told me he found it so extremely revolting that he deemed it too enormous to ascribe to a Muslim, so he deleted it, so it would not be exploited by the enemies of the religion. He asked me to record that here by way of making up for what he had done, and as a counsel (nasiha) to Muslims (al-Sayf al-saqil, 85).
The deception was perpetrated anew when Abu Hayyan’s Tafsir al-nahr al-madd was printed on its own in Beirut with the same deletion by Dar al-Fikr in 1983, and was not rectified until Dar al-Janan and Mu’assasa al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyya in Beirut brought it out using original manuscripts of the work in 1987.
I think these examples are sufficient to give a general idea of the process, though the motives may differ from case to case. And Allah knows best.
© Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995