New to Islam? Preservation of the Qur'an

Sabeel Ahmed
New to Islam?

Page 8 of 10


The complete Qur'an was written down in front of the Prophet (S) by several of his scribes and the companions possess their own copies of the Qur'an in the Prophet's lifetime. However the written material of the Qur'an in the Prophet's possession were not bounded between the two covers in the form of a book, because the period of revelation of the Qur'an continued up until just a few days before the Prophet's death. The task of collecting the Qur'an as a book was therefore undertaken by Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه, the first successor to the Prophet.

Written Qur'an in First Generation

At the battle of Yamama (633 CE), six months after the death of the Prophet, 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 رضي الله عنه, one of the scribes of the Revelation: Abu Bakr 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 was present with Abu Bakr 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) 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. 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 رضي الله عنه, the original scribe of the Prophet, 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 (S); 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 recite the passage in question. (27)

'The manuscript on which the Qur'an was collected, remained with Abu Bakr till Allah took him unto Him, and then with Umar (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 they committee would have made a error even of a single alphabet in transcribing the Qur'an, the Qurra (memorizers of the Qur'an) which totaled in the tens of hundreds would have caught it right away and correct 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 رضي الله عنه

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 رضي الله عنه (second successor to the Prophet) 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, who made a official copy in the Quraishi dialect, the dialect in which the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet (S) and was memorized by his companions. Thus this compilation by Uthman's Committee is not a different version of the Qur'an (like the Biblical versions) but the same original revelation given to the Prophet by One God, Allah.

Narrated Anas bin Malik رضي الله عنه: Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people of Sham (Syria) and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Armenia and Azherbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their differences in the recitation of the Qur'an, so he said to Uthman, 'O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Qur'an) as Jews and Christians did before'. So Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, 'Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you'. Hafsa sent it to Uthman. 'Uthman 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 said to the three Quraishi men, 'In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in their (Quraishi) tongue'. They did so, and when they had written many copies, Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt..." (29)

Again a very stringent criteria 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. (31)

3. Uthman رضي الله عنه himself was to supervise the work of the Council. (32)

When the final recension was completed, Uthman رضي الله عنه sent a copy of it to each of the major cities of Makka, Damascus, Kufa, Basra and Madina.

The action of Uthman رضي الله عنه 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 رضي الله عنه is reported to have said: "I saw the Companions of Muhammad (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 رضي الله عنه said: "I saw the people assemble in large number at Uthman's burning of the prescribed copies (of the Qur'an), and they were all pleased with his action; not a one spoke out against him". (34)

Ali ibn Abu Talib رضي الله عنه, the cousin of the Prophet and the fourth successor to the Prophet commented: "If I were in command in place of Uthman, I would have done the same". (35)

Of the copies made by Uthman رضي الله عنه, 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 sent to Madina 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 Uthman, which was removed from Madina 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 Madina (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)

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