Friday, December 08, 2006

On the making of the Quran

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) is reported to have said the following:
"I have left with you something which if you will hold fast to it you will never fall into error: a plain indication, the Book of God and the practice of His Prophet." (Al-Hakim)
Here the Prophet refers to the Noble Qur'an as the Book of God; and clearly this means that the revelations had already been made by that time into a collection of writings, or a book.
There is ample evidence in Hadith and seerah literature that show that the revelation was promptly written down and preserved in accordance with the instructions of the Prophet.
Zaid ibn Thabit, who was the chief among the scribes appointed by the Prophet to write down the revelations, said, "We used to compile the Qur'an from small scraps in the presence of the Messenger."
It is also clear that the arrangement and order of the verses as dictated by the Prophet was well known to the Companions of the Prophet, particularly because of the daily recitation of the Qur'an in the prayers.
In addition, the Angel Jibreel went through the revelation with the Prophet every year in Ramadan, and in the year of the Prophet's death he went through it twice.
In short, the existence of the Qur'an in the form of a book (or collection of written material) during the time of the Prophet is corroborated by a number of reports by his contemporaries.
We find the word suhuf in the Glorious Qur'an referring to the written sheets of Abraham and Moses.
*{And this is in the Books of the earliest (Revelation),- The Books of Abraham and Moses.}* (Al-A`la 87:18-19)
In fact the word mushaf (in the sense of a volume of collected sheets) is derived from the same root as suhuf. Today, we use the word mushaf for a copy of the Qur'an, which is a well-bound volume of properly arranged chapters and verses.
When `Uthman ibn `Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) became the caliph, there came up the question of the proper reading of the Qur'an. This issue was raised for several reasons, one of which was that many non-Arabs had become Muslim and sometimes would read the Qur'an incorrectly because Arabic was not their first language and diacritical marks were not used in books at that time.
Furthermore, in the Battle of Yamamah in 632 CE, many of the Companions who had memorized the Qur'an were killed. These two situations made it vital to "publish" a standard copy of the mushaf in order to preserve the Qur'an in writing.
The caliph understood the imperative need for a standard copy of the Qur'an to avoid any future confusion in the matter. For this purpose, he consulted the living Companions of the Prophet and had a standard copy prepared by using the suhuf of his predecessor caliph Abu Bakr, which had come into the hands of Hafsah through her father `Umar ibn Al-Khattab.
Abu Bakr was one of the first people to convert to Islam and "he used to recite the Qur'an publicly in front of his house in Makkah."After `Uthman got the standard copy ready, he authenticated it and banned all other copies. Obviously such a move was crucial to the authentication of the `Uthmani mushaf.
We can read in the Hadith literature an account of what happened. One of the Prophet's Companions approached Caliph `Uthman about differences he detected in the recitation of the Qur'an between the people of Iraq and those of Greater Syria (Ash-Sham):
Hudhaifa said to `Uthman: "O leader of the believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Qur'an), as Jews and the Christians did before."
So `Uthman sent a message to Hafsah (one of the Prophet's wives) 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." Hafsah sent it to `Uthman.
`Uthman then ordered Zaid ibn Thabit, `Abdullah ibn Az-Zubair, Sa`id Ibn Al-`As and `Abdur-Rahman ibn Al-Harith ibn Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. `Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zaid ibn Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of the Quraish as the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue."
They did so, and when they had written many copies, `Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsah. `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 burned in order to avoid confusion.
Zaid added, "I missed a verse from Surat Al-Ahzab when we copied the Qur'an and I used to hear Allah's Messenger reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaimah ibn Thabit Al-Ansari."
That verse was *{Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.}* (Al-Ahzab 33:23). (Al-Bukhari)
From the moment of its revelation, the Qur'an was being learned by heart by a large number of its followers. The Prophet had encouraged his Companions to learn and teach the Qur'an, saying, "The most superior among you (Muslims) are those who learn the Qur'an and teach it" (Al-Bukhari).
Some of the Companions who memorized the Qur'an were 'Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman, `Ali, Ibn Masud, Abu Hurairah, `Abdullah ibn `Abbas, `Abdullah ibn `Amr ibn Al-`As, `A'ishah, Hafsah, and Umm Salama.
This process of memorization of the Qur'an was continued from the very beginning of the revelation and it is still done in a very systematic manner in every part of the Muslim world.
Consequently, every day, every hour, every minute, in fact every second of the 24 hours of the 365 days of every year of the past centuries has been alive with the reading and study of the Qur'an with no discrepancies between any recitation by anyone. And it continues into the future.
Now the volume and scope of this phenomenon multiplies in every imaginable way with the arrival of multimedia.
The fact that the Qur'an had been in the hands and hearts of the people from the very beginning made it impossible for any one to distort it or make any kind of changes in it. In the Qur'an itself, Allah guarantees to safeguard it from any corruption or distortion:
*{We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).}* (Al-Hijr 15:9)

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