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Quran Preservation & Compilation -1 (Prophet’s lifetime)

Many polemics especially Christian missionaries speak against Qur'an and try to create confusions. In this series we shall study in brief the whole process of Qur'an preservation and compilation.

Main Medium of Qur'an Preservation:

One thing that ought to be kept in mind regarding the preservation of the Qur'an is that it was done more through memory then through writing. There was and is great wisdom in this. We see that in the case of earlier Prophets whose teachings were not committed to memory were lost. Some times the invaders destroyed the manuscripts and sometimes the scribes intentionally or intentionally made mistakes. So to avoid the same to happen to the Qur'an more emphasis was laid on its memorization though it was put into writing as well.

Therefore we read in Sahih Muslim that Allah Almighty said to the Holy Prophet (PBUH):

وَأَنْزَلْتُ عَلَيْكَ كِتَابًا لَا يَغْسِلُهُ الْمَاءُ

"I sent the Book to you which cannot be washed away by water." (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 5109)

This meant that Qur'an will not be preserved only on scrolls but through some other medium as well. So Muslims right from the beginning gave special attention to memorizing the Qur'an so not only the Holy Prophet (PBUH) himself but scores of his companions learnt the complete Qur'an by heart. They include Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman, Ali, Abdullah bin Masud, Talha, Sa'ad, Huzaifa, Ubayy bin Ka'b, Abdullah bin Abbas, Abdullah bin Zubar, Abdullah bin Sai'b, Zaid bin Thabit, Abu Hurairah, Abu Darda, Ma'az bin Jabal, Anas bin Malik, Abu Musa Ashari, Muawiyyah, Sayyidah Aisha, Sayyidah Umm Salmah, Sayyidah Hafsa and many more.

(More names of the companions who had rendered complete Qur'an to their memory can be found in An-Nashr fil Qir'at al-Ashr by Al-Jazri and Al-Ittiqan by Jalaluddin Suyuti)

Quran Compilation during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet:

But nevertheless Qur'an was also written down and this was done right during the life time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). And all the later codices were based on what was dictated by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) himself. We shall see the details shortly.

Holy Prophet (PBUH) had around 40 companions who usually worked as scribes. The names of these companions have been mentioned in various authentic writings. Holy Prophet (PBUH) made special arrangements for the Qur'an to be written. How the Qur'an was written and was checked by the Prophet (PBUH) is evident from the following example:

عن زيد بن ثابت قال : كنت أكتب الوحي لرسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ، وكان « إذا نزل عليه أخذته برحاء شديدة ، وعرق عرقا شديدا مثل الجمان، ثم سري عنه » ، فكنت أدخل عليه بقطعة الكتف أو كسرة ، فأكتب وهو يملي علي ، فما أفرغ حتى تكاد رجلي تنكسر من ثقل القرآن ، وحتى أقول : لا أمشي على رجلي أبدا ، فإذا فرغت قال : « اقرأه » ، فأقرؤه ، فإن كان فيه سقط أقامه ، ثم أخرج به إلى الناس

Zaid bin Thabit, one of the chief scribes relates: 'I used to write down the revelation for the Holy Prophet (PBUH). When the revelation came to him he felt intense heat and drops of perspiration used to roll down his body like pearls. When this state was over I used to fetch a shoulder bone or a piece of something else. He used to go on dictating and I used to write it down. When I finished writing the sheer wait of transcription gave me the feeling that my leg would break and I would not be able to walk anymore. Anyhow when I finished writing, he would say, 'Read!' and I would read it back to him. If there was an omission or error he used to correct it and then let it be brought before the people.'
(Mu'jam Al-Tabarani Al-Awst 4/445 Hadith 1985. Authenticated by Al-Haithmi in Majma’ Al-Zawaid 8/257)

This is a categorical proof that Companions used to write Qur'an in the supervision of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and got it checked from him before making it public.

Also there are proofs that during the life time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) the written manuscripts of Qur'an were there. Infact writing of the Qur'an was in practice from the early days of Islam as evident from the event of the reversion of one of the closest companions, Umar bin Khattab, when he found his sister and brother-in-law with a parchment on which the verses of Surah Taha (chapter 20) were written.
(cf. Sunan Dar Qutni 1/491 Hadith 451. Zayli' confirmed its authenticity)

There are some other traditions which indicate that Companions had written copies of complete or incomplete Quran. For example;

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُمَرَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ نَهَى أَنْ يُسَافَرَ بِالْقُرْآنِ إِلَى أَرْضِ الْعَدُوِّ

Narrated Abdullah bin 'Umar: 'Allah's Messenger forbade the people to travel to a hostile country carrying (copies of) the Quran.'
(Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 2768)

Obviously these traditions irrefutably indicate to the fact the Companions used to have written copies of the Qur’an even during the life time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

Claim that Qurān was not written completely during the Prophet’s time:

Orientalists claim that Qur’an was not written in full during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). This is false and the fact is that whole of the Qur’an was indeed written in the supervision of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) but it was not compiled into one collection. This is testified by the statement of Zaid bin Thabit, one of the chief scribes. He said:

قُبِضَ النَّبِيّ صَلَّى اللَّه عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ الْقُرْآن جُمِعَ فِي شَيْء

"The Prophet passed way while the Qurān was yet not gathered into a book.” (Fath Al-Bari 14/193)

Clearly the word used here is jumia’ i.e. gathered and not written. And the wisdom behind the fact that Qur’an was completely written but not compiled at one place during the life of the holy Prophet (PBUH) is explained by Al-Khattabi. He said;

‘The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) did not gather the Qur’an in a Mushaf because he had to wait if there was some abrogation of some commands or recitation but when he died and the revelation ceased (and thus abrogation as well); Allah, to fulfill his True Commitment of preservation (of Qur’an) for this Ummah, put this thought into the hearts of the Righteous Caliphs. Then this great task was undertaken by Abu Bakr on the advice of Umar.’ (Al-Ittiqan 1/143 Section 18)

In the next part we shall discuss the circumstances which lead to the compilation of the Holy Qur'an during the days of Abu Bakr (RA) and misconceptions regarding it.


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