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Preservation of the Qur’an

Sep 26, 2007
By Sabeel Ahmed

Written Qur'an in First Generation
At the battle of Yamama (633 CE), six months after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him), a number of Muslims, who had memorized the Qur'an were killed. Hence it was feared that unless a written official copy of the Qur'an were prepared, a large part of revelation might be lost.

Narrated Zaid bin Thabit al-Ansari (May Allah be pleased with him), one of the scribes of the Revelation: Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) sent for me after the casualties among the warriors (of the battle) of Yamama (where a great number of Qurra (memorizers of the Qur'an, were killed). Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) was present with Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) who said: "Umar has come to me and said, the people have suffered heavy casualties on the day of (the battle) of Yamama, and I am afraid that there will be some casualties among the Qurra at other places, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be lost, unless you collect it (in one manuscript, or book)…so Abu Bakr said to me (Zaid bin Thabit): You are a wise young man and we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of forgetfulness) and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah’s Apostle (peace be upon him). Therefore, look for the Qur’an and collect it (in one manuscript)’…So I started locating the Qur'anic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leafstalks of date palms and from the memories of men (who know it by heart)…" (24)

Now, a committee was formed to under take the task of collecting the written Qur'anic material in the form of a book. The committee was headed by Zaid bin Thabit (May Allah be pleased with him), the original scribe of the Prophet (peace be upon him), who was also a memorizer of the complete Qur'an. ‘…Zaid bin Thabit had committed the entire Qur'an to memory…’ (25)

The compilers in this committee, in examining written material submitted to them, insisted on very stringent criteria as a safeguard against any errors.

1. The material must have been originally written down in the presence of the Prophet (peace be upon him); nothing written down later on the basis of memory alone was to be accepted. (26)

2. The material must be confirmed by two witnesses, that is to say, by two trustworthy persons testifying that they themselves had heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) recite the passage in question. (27)

‘The manuscript on which the Qur’an was collected, remained with Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) till Allah took him unto Him, and then with Umar (May Allah be pleased with him), (the second successor), till Allah took him unto Him, and finally it remained with Hafsa, ‘Umar’s daughter (and wife of the Prophet)’. (28)

This copy of the Qur'an, prepared by the committee of competent companions of the Prophet (which included Memorizers of the Qur'an) was unanimous approved by the whole Muslim world. If the committee would have made a error even of a single alphabet in transcribing the Qur'an, the Qurra (memorizers of the Qur'an) which totalled in the tens of hundreds would have caught it right away and corrected it. This is exactly where the neat check and balance system of preservation of the Qur'an comes into play, but which is lacking for any other scripture besides the Qur'an.

Official written copy by Uthman RA
The Qur'an was originally revealed in Quraishi dialect of Arabic. But to facilitate the people who speak other dialects, in their understanding and comprehension, Allah revealed the Qur'an finally in seven dialects of Arabic. During the period of Caliph Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him), (second successor to the Prophet (peace be upon him) differences in reading the Qur'an among the various tribes became obvious, due to the various dialectical recitations. Dispute was arising, with each tribe calling its recitation as the correct one. This alarmed Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him), who made a official copy in the Quraishi dialect, the dialect in which the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and was memorized by his companions. Thus this compilation by Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him)’s Committee is not a different version of the Qur'an (like the Biblical versions) but the same original revelation given to the Prophet (peace be upon him) by One God, Allah.

Narrated Anas bin Malik (May Allah be pleased with him): Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman RA at the time when the people of Sham (Syria) and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Armenia and Azerbaijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their differences in the recitation of the Quran, so he said to Uthman RA, ‘O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as the previous people did before’. So Uthman RA sent a message to Hafsa RA saying, ‘Send us the manuscripts of the Quran so that we may compile the Quranic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you’. Hafsa RA sent it to Uthman RA. ‘Uthman RA then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, ‘Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Said bin Al-As and Abdur Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. Uthman RA said to the three Quraishi men, ‘In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Quran, then write it in their (Quraishi) tongue’. They did so, and when they had written many copies, Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him) sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied and ordered that all the other Quranic materials whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt…" (29)

Again a very stringent criterion was set up by this Committee to prevent any alteration of the Revelation.
1. The earlier recension (Original copy prepared by Abu Bakr) was to serve as the principal basis of the new one. (30)
2. Any doubt that might be raised as to the phrasing of a particular passage in the written text was to be dispelled by summoning persons known to have learned the passage in question from the Prophet (peace be upon him). (31)
3. Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him) himself was to supervise the work of the Council. (32)

When the final recension was completed, Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him) sent a copy of it to each of the major cities of Makkah, Damascus, Kufa, Basra and Medina. The action of Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him) to burn the other copies besides the final recension, though obviously drastic, was for the betterment and harmony of the whole community and was unanimously approved by the Companions of the Prophet.

Zaid ibn Thabit (May Allah be pleased with him) is reported to have said: "I saw the Companions of Muhammad (peace be upon him) (going about) saying, ‘By God, Uthman has done well! By God, Uthman has done well!" (33) Another esteemed Companion Musab ibn Sad ibn Abi Waqqas (May Allah be pleased with him) said: "I saw the people assemble in large number at Uthman’s burning of the prescribed copies (of the Quran), and they were all pleased with his action; not a one spoke out against him". (34)

Ali ibn Abu Talib (May Allah be pleased with him), the cousin of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the fourth successor to the Prophet (peace be upon him) commented: "If I were in command in place of Uthman, I would have done the same". (35)

Of the copies made by Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him), two still exist to our day. One is in the city of Tashkent, (Uzbekistan) and the second one is in Istanbul (Turkey). Below is a brief account of both these copies:

1. The copy which Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him) sent to Madinah was reportedly removed by the Turkish authorities to Istanbul, from where it came to Berlin during World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, which concluded World War I, contains the following clause: ‘Article 246: Within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, Germany will restore to His Majesty, King of Hedjaz, the original Koran of Caliph Othman, which was removed from Medina by the Turkish authorities and is stated to have been presented to the ex-Emperor William II". (36) ‘This manuscript then reached Istanbul, but not Medina (Where it now resides)’. (37)

2. The second copy in existence is kept in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. ‘It may be the Imam (master) manuscript or one of the other copies made at the time of Uthman’. (38) It Came to Samarkand in 890 Hijra (1485) and remained there till 1868. Then it was taken to St.Petersburg by the Russians in 1869. It remained there till 1917. A Russian orientalist gave a detailed description of it, saying that many pages were damaged and some were missing. A facsimile, some 50 copies, of this mushaf (copy) was produced by S.Pisareff in 1905. A copy was sent to the Ottoman Sultan ‘Abdul Hamid, to the Shah of Iran, to the Amir of Bukhara, to Afghanistan, to Fas and some important Muslim personalities. One copy is now in the Columbia University Library (U.S.A.). (39)

‘The Manuscript was afterwards returned to its former place and reached Tashkent in 1924, where it has remained since’. (40)

‘Two of the copies of the Quran which were originally prepared in the time of Caliph Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him), are still available to us today and their text and arrangement can be compared, by anyone who cares to do, with any other copy of the Quran, be it in print or handwritten, from any place or period of time. They will be found identical’. (41)

It can now be proclaimed, through the evidences provided above, with full conviction and certainty that the Prophet (peace be upon him) memorized the entire Quran, had it written down in front of him through his scribes, many of his companions memorized the entire revelation and in turn possess their own private copies for recitation and contemplation. This process of dual preservation of the Quran in written and in the memory was carried in each subsequent generation till our time, without any deletion, interpolation or corruption of this Divine Book.

Sir William Muir, Orientalist of the 19th century states, "There is probably no other book in the world which has remained twelve centuries (now fourteen) with so pure a text". (42)

This divine protection provided to the Quran, the Last Revealed Guide to Humanity, is proclaimed by One God in the Quran: We* (Allah) have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly Guard it (from corruption)’ (Quran – Chapter 15, Verse 9). * (‘We’ is the plural of Majesty and not the plural of trinity)

Compare this divine and historical preservation of the Quran with any literature, be it religious or secular and it becomes evident that none possess similar miraculous protection. And as states earlier, a belief is as authentic as the authenticity of its scripture. And if any scripture is not preserved, how can we be certain that the belief arising out of this scripture is divine or man made, and if we are not sure about the belief itself, then our salvation in the hereafter would be jeopardized.

Thus the above evidence for the protection of the Quran from any corruption is a strong hint about its divine origin. We request all open hearted persons to read, understand and live the Quran, the ‘Manual for Mankind’. Welcome to Islam!


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