The preservation of The Qur'an: "An unbroken living sequence of devotion "
What is The Qur'an? The Quran is the holy book of the Muslims, revealed by God to the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during his life in Mecca and Madinah. The Quran literally means the recitation and contains the original text of Gods revelation to Muhammad.
Method of preserving The Qur'an The Qur'an was revealed over 1400 years ago to the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the early 7th century AD. It was revealed over a period of 23 years, with the first revelation being sent down when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was 40 years of age. The first revelation came to him when he was in a cave on mount Hira, situated east of the holy city of Mecca.
After the revelation the Prophet (peace be upon him) began to spread the message of The Qur'an to the people around him. Whenever he used to receive a revelation, he used to first memorise it. (Which was taught by angel Gabriel)
After memorising, he used to recite it in a company of his companions who then memorised it under the supervision of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Prophet would then order them to write it down on scribes (shoulder blade bones, leaves, slate etc - whatever was available at the time) and he used to personally verify them. As the prophet didn't know how to read and write, the companions would first write it down and then read aloud what they had written. The prophet would point out any mistakes and correct them.
Large portions of the revelation were easily memorized by a large number of people as writing was a rarely used method of storing and passing information. Memory and oral transmission were the main methods of storing and passing on information in those days, which meant that these skills were exercised and strengthened to a degree that is almost unknown today.
The Qur'an was required to be recited regularly as an act of worship, especially during the five daily prayers (salah). Through these means, many repeatedly heard passages from the Quran were recited and memorised frequently. The Quran was revealed gradually over 23 years. As a result; the amount needed to be memorised per revelation was manageable and easy to remember.
In this way, the whole of the Qur'an was written down under the personal supervision of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
The prophet gave orders to: 1. Only write down the words of The Qur'an and not his own. 2. Learn the Qur'an from a reliable teacher. 3. Write it down in case one forgets. 4. Commit it to memory.
Each Ramadan, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would repeat after the angel Gabriel reciting the entire Quran in its exact order as far as it had been revealed, while in the presence of a number of his Companions.
In his last year, the Prophet recited the whole, completed Qur'an twice while in the presence of his Companions, reinforcing and double checking their memorisations.
After the Prophet's death, Abu Bakr was made the Caliph (ruler) for the Muslim nation. After the battle of Yamama, Many companions became martyrs and it was feared that unless a written copy of the entire revelation was produced, large parts of the Quran might be lost with the death of those who had memorized it. Therefore, at the suggestion of Umar to collect the Quran in the form of writing, Zaid ibn Thabit (a skilled writer of the time) was requested by Abu Bakr to head a committee which would gather together the scattered recordings of the Quran to be compiled into one book and authenticated.
It was widely announced in the city of Madina that everyone in possession of any part of the Holy Qur'an in writing, recited in the presence of the Prophet or corrected after comparison with it, or read before the Prophet should produce it before an authority headed by Zayd ibn Thabit.
The members comprised of a number of companions including 'Umar. It was directed to collect the authorised text of the holy Qur'an. In order to safeguard the compilation from errors, the committee accepted only material which had been written down in the presence of the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself, and which could be verified by at least two reliable witnesses who had actually heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) recite the passage in question. In this way the whole of the Qur'an was compiled into one form in the presence of 20-25 of the Prophet's companions who had committed the whole Qur'an to memory. After completion, Zayd read out loud the whole Qur'an to the committee. This way, it was made sure that the Authenticity of the Qur'an was maintained.
Once completed and unanimously approved of by the Prophets Companions, these sheets were kept with the Caliph Abu Bakr, then passed on to the Caliph Umar, and then Umars daughter and the Prophets widow, Hafsa.
Although the Quran was initially revealed in the Qurayshi dialect of Arabic to the Prophet (peace be upon him), it was also later revealed in seven different Arabian dialects to aid the understanding of those belonging to non-Quraysh tribes. At the time of the third Caliph Othman however, a companion named Hudhayfah ibn Al-Yaman observed that the people of the regions of present-day Syria and Iraq had begun disputing over various pronunciations of some of the words of the Quran, while new Muslims in provinces outside Arabia were unsure which dialect should be learned. He therefore requested Hafsa to send him the manuscript of the Quran which was in her safekeeping, and ordered the production of several bounded copies of it using the Quraysh dialect (the dialect of the Prophet himself and in which the Qur'an had commenced being revealed in). This task was entrusted to several of the Companions.
To meet the high standard of intellectual integrity obtaining at the time, 'Uthman ordered that all the copies which were made should be read aloud, one by one, from beginning to end in the Prophet's mosque.
Uthman returned the original manuscript to Hafsa and sent the copies to the major Islamic provinces to replace other materials that were in circulation. He also ordered that all other extracts or copies of the Quran which differed from that undoubted official copy (including incomplete manuscripts and those with additional personal notes) be burnt so that the Quran would not suffer the same fate of alterations, uncertainty of authenticity and contradictory versions which characterized prior religious scriptures.
All the copies of The Holy Qur'an which have come down to us from the first century of the Hijra are the same as the six copies sent to different capitals by Uthman. Some of those copies are still preserved today and are proven to be identical to all modern Qurans. Some of the references include: The Tashqand Museum, Topkapi Museum of Istanbul, India office library and several other places, with digital scans available for download from certain copies.
Knowledge of the preservation of The Quran The story of how the Qur'an came to be preserved is drawn entirely from authentic Ahadith (reports about the prophet and about events during his life and after his death). Early Muslim scholars have developed some of the most rigorous criteria to scrutinize such reports for authenticity. The majority of what we know of the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions are from mutawaatir reports (reported by many different reliable narrators, who all independently verify the same account). This continuing and dynamic science (now over thirteen centuries old) has produced highly accurate reports of Muslim history. All the geographically scattered scholars of the first four centuries of Ahadith collection, who belonged to varied and competing schools of thought, had the same historical facts about the preservation of the Qur'an when compared.
Some quotes from non-Muslims regarding the preservation of The Quran: Jeffrey Lang concludes that: "Muslim scholars' deductions of history hold ground more solidly with the available evidence than their orientalist counterparts." Gibb, an orientalist: "It seems reasonably well established that no material changes were introduced and that the original form of Muhammads discourses was preserved with scrupulous precision." John Burton, at the end of his substantial work on the Qur'an's compilation, says with reference to criticisms made of different readings narrated in Ahadith that "No major differences of doctrines can be constructed on the basis of the parallel readings based on the Uthmanic consonantal outline, yet ascribed to mushafs other than his. All the rival readings unquestionably represent one and the same text. They are substantially agreed in what they transmit." Kenneth Cragg describes the transmission of the Qur'an from the time of revelation to today as occurring in "an unbroken living sequence of devotion." Schwally concurs that "As far as the various pieces of revelation are concerned, we may be confident that their text has been generally transmitted exactly as it was found in the Prophet's legacy." Sir William Muir states: "There is probably no other book in the world which has remained twelve centuries [now fourteen] with so pure a text."
Some references: Sir William Muir, Life of Mohamet, London, 1894, vol.1, Introduction H.A.R Gibb, Mohammedanism, London: Oxford University Press, 1962. p.25 Arthur Jeffrey, Materials for the History of the text of the Quran, Leiden: Brill, 1937, p.31 William graham, beyond the written Word, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p.80 Kenneth Cragg, The Mind of the Quran, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1973, p.26 Ignaz Goldziher, Muslim Studies II, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1971 Bilal Philips, Usool at-Tafseer, Sharjah: Dar al-Fatah, 1997, p.159 Jeffrey Lang, struggling to surrender, Maryland: Amana publications, 1994, p.92 Edward Said, Orientalism, NY: Pantheon Books, 1978 Nabia Abbott, Studies in Arabic Literary Papyri, vol.1: Historic Texts, Chicago, 1957, & Vol.2: Quranic Commentary and tradition, Chicago, 1967
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