THE RECORDING AND PRESERVATION OF THE QURAN

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It is commonly accepted that in human history, God the Almighty has sent 124,000 prophets. According to the Islamic definition, a Prophet is one who comes with important tidings, “the tidings of the Religion,” which are based on faith in the existence and Unity of God and His angels, the mission or office of Prophethood and Prophets, Revelation and Divine Scriptures, the Resurrection and afterlife and Divine Destiny, including human free will. The “tidings” also include offering a life to be based on this belief and promises and warning with respect to accepting this belief and offering or not. It frequently happened in the past that the Religion was considerably corrupted, which caused a Prophet to be chosen to revive and restore the Religion and make some amendments in its rules, or make new laws concerning daily life. This Prophet, who was usually given a Book, is called a Messenger, and his mission, Messengership. Five of the Messengers, namely Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, upon them be peace, are mentioned in a verse in Surat ash-Shura (42:13) and accepted as the greatest of all Messengers.

The name of the Religion which God the Almighty sent to all the Messengers during history is Islam or, literally, absolute submission to God Almighty. Just as the laws in the order and operation of the universe are the same and constant, then similarly, there is no difference between the first human being on the earth and all the human beings of today with respect to their being human with the same peculiarities, essential needs, and final destination awaiting them. So too, it is natural that the Religion should be one and the same based on the same essentials of faith, worship and morality. As this Religion was corrupted or altered or contaminated with borrowings from false creeds, God sent different Messengers in different epochs of history. He sent Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, as the last of the Messengers, with the perfected and last form of the Religion, and “undertook” the preservation of the Book: Indeed it is We, We Who send down the Reminder in parts, and it is indeed We Who are its Guardian (15:9). After Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, the Religion he communicated came to be called Judaism; after Jesus, upon him be peace, came Christianity; and Islam has remained as the name of the perfected, preserved form of the Divine Religion which the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, communicated.

Why did the Almighty undertake to preserve the Quran while allowing the previous Scriptures to be altered? First, He has preknowledge of everything and thus knew and predetermined that human well-being and happiness would require a final Prophet. He chose Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, as the final Prophet and through him perfected Islam so that it would address all levels of knowledge of understanding and solve all human problems until the Last Day. As this made sending another Prophet who would revive or restore the Religion unnecessary, He preserved the Quran. Second, preserving the Quran is not a sign of God’s peculiar favor to the Muslims. Rather, as His predetermination includes human free will, He knew beforehand that the Community of Prophet Muhammad would be more devoted to their Book than any other people would be devoted to their own. So, as in this world He acts behind natural or material causes and certain means, He has preserved the Quran by employing the necessary means for its preservation—the Companions of the Prophet, may God be pleased with them, and the succeeding Muslim generations, who were sincerely devoted to their Book. As the first step to preserving the Quran, it was written down during the life of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, under his direct supervision. It is due to this that not one word of its text has been deleted, added or mutilated. There is not a single difference among the copies of the Quran that have been circulating throughout the world during the fourteen centuries of Islam.

In considering the fact that, unlike other Scriptures preceding it, the Quran has been preserved in its original form or text, without a single alteration, addition or deletion, the following points are of considerable significance:

• The Quran was revealed in parts. God the Almighty undertook not only the preservation of the Quran but also its due recitation and the arrangement of its parts as a Book. He revealed to His Messenger where each verse and chapter revealed would be placed:

Move not your tongue to hasten it (for safekeeping in your heart). Surely it is for Us to collect it (in your heart) and enable you to recite it (by heart). So when We recite it, follow its recitation; thereafter, it is for Us to explain it. (75:16–19)

Absolutely Exalted is God, the Supreme Sovereign, the Absolute Truth and Ever-Constant. Do not show haste (O Messenger) with (the receiving and memorizing of any Revelation included in) the Quran before it has been revealed to you in full, but say: “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.” (20:114)

• The Almighty emphasizes that no falsehood can approach the Quran, and there will be nothing to cause doubt about its authenticity as the Book of God:

It is surely a glorious, unconquerable Book. Falsehood can never have access to it, whether from before it or from behind it (whether by arguments and attitudes based on philosophies to be invented or by attacks from the past based on earlier Scriptures; it is) the Book being sent down in parts from the One All-Wise, All-Praiseworthy (to Whom all praise and gratitude belong). (41:41–42)

• The Messenger of God, upon him be peace and blessings, once a year used to review with the Archangel Gabriel the portion of the Quran that had been revealed until that year. In the Messenger’s last year, after the completion of the Quran’s revelation, Gabriel came twice for this purpose. The Messenger concluded from this that his migration to the other world was near.8

• From the very beginning of its revelation, the Prophet’s Companions, may God be pleased with them, paid the utmost attention to the Quran, and tried their best to understand, memorize and learn it. This was, in fact, the order of the Qur’an:

And so, when the Quran is recited, give ear to it and listen in silence so that you may be shown mercy. (7:204)

• There were few who knew how to read and write in the starting period of the Quran’s revelation. It was decreed after the Battle of Badr, which was the first encounter between the Muslims and the Makkan polytheists, that the prisoners of war would be emancipated on the condition that each should teach ten Muslims of Madinah how to read and write. Those who learned to read and write first attempted to memorize the Quran. They attempted to do so because the recitation of some portion of the Quran is obligatory in the prescribed Prayers; because the Quran was very original for them; and because it purified their minds of prejudices and wrong assertions, and their hearts of sins, and illuminated them; and because it built a society out of illuminated minds and purified hearts.

• In order to understand the extent of the efforts the Companions exerted to memorize the Quran and the number of those who memorized it, it suffices to mention that in the disaster of Bi’r al-Ma’una, which took place just a few years after the Emigration, seventy Companions who had memorized the Quran were martyred. Another seventy or so memorizers of the Quran were also martyred in other similar events and battles during the life of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. 9 When the Prophet died, there were several Companions who knew the Quran by heart, such as ‘ Ali ibn Abi Talib, ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr, Hudayfah ibn al-Yaman, Salim, Mu‘adh ibn Jabal, Abu ad-Darda, Ubayy ibn Ka‘b, as well as ‘A’ishah and Umm Salamah, wives of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. When a person came into Islam or emigrated to Madinah, the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, sent him to a Companion to learn the Quran. Since a humming sound rose when the learners of the Quran began reciting, the Prophet asked them to lower their voices so as not to confuse one another.10

• The Quran was revealed in parts, mostly on specific occasions. Whenever a verse or chapter or a group of verses was revealed, it was memorized by many people, and God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, also had it written down. He instructed where it would be placed in the Quran. (The Quran was revealed within twenty-three years. However, it was called the Quran from the beginning of its revelation.) Those whom the Messenger employed in the writing down of the Quran were called the Scribes of the Revelation. Histories give the names of forty or so among them. In addition to writing down the parts of the Quran revealed, the Scribes copied them for themselves and preserved them.11

• When God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, died, several Companions, such as ‘ Ali ibn Abi Talib, Mu’adh ibn Jabal, Abu ad-Darda, and Ubayy ibn Ka‘b, had already collected the portions of the Quran as a complete book. ‘Ali had arranged them according to the revelation time of the chapThe Quran: The Holy Scripture of Islam 149 ters.12 Following the death of the Prophet, when around seven hundred memorizers of the Quran were martyred in the Battle of Yamama, ‘ Umar ibn al-Khattab applied to the Caliph Abu Bakr with the request that they should have an “official” version of the Quran, since the memorizers of the Quran were being martyred in the battles. Zayd ibn Thabit, one of the leading scholars and memorizers of the Quran at that time, was chosen for the task. After a meticulous work, Zayd prepared the official collection, which was called the Mushaf.13

• The Almighty openly declares in Surat al-Qiyamah: “Surely it is for Us to collect it (in your heart) and enable you to recite it (by heart).” (75: 17) All the verses and chapters of the Quran were arranged and collected as a book on the instructions of the Prophet himself, upon him be peace and blessings, as guided by the Revelation. After the Battle of Yamama, as stated above, an official version was compiled and many copies of this version were produced and sent out to all cities during the time of the third caliph ‘ Uthman, may God be pleased with him.14 These copies are still to be found in certain cities in the world. There is even one of the copies produced from the Imam Manuscript, which is the name used for the basic copy which Caliph ‘ Uthman kept for himself, in Columbia University Library (U.S.A.).15

• One of the foremost reasons for the Quran coming down to us through many centuries without a single distortion or change is that it has been preserved in its own original language. No one in the Muslim world has ever thought to supersede it with any translation of it, with the result that it has been protected from being exposed to what the previous Scriptures were.

In conclusion, the authenticity and genuineness of the copies of the Quran now in our hands, in the sense that it is in the very words which were conveyed by God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, is so evident that no Muslim scholar of any standard has ever doubted its genuineness or the fact that each and every letter, word or sentence, verse or chapter was conveyed by the Messenger, as part of the Quran revealed to him by God Amighty. In other words, the version we have in our hands is undoubtedly the Quran as conveyed and recited by the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.