The History of the Compilation of the Quran
Updated: Aug 28, 2021
Deen or what we loosely translate religion or faith, is in the realm of divinely revealed knowledge. We don't invent deen. We receive it. We believe that it is given to us by a higher authority, objective, and neutral.
We believe that the higher authority chooses someone to receive the Message through an angel. Therefore, we use the terms Prophet (nabi) and the Messenger (rasul) for the person chosen to deliver the divine guidance to humanity. The Message confirms that human beings do not make it up; instead, the Supreme Creator has the interests in His mind and does not favor a race over the other or one ethnicity or culture over the other.
The deliverance of the divine Message began with the advent of humanity. Some people followed it, and others rejected it. Over some time, the Divine Message got corrupted, and the original was lost. Thus the Message was repeated through prophets and messengers to ensure that people never lose sight of the original. Therefore, every Prophet and Messenger repeated the same original divine Message. The Creator did not confuse people of different ages with different messages. The language, the methodology, and the issues changed in the community of a new prophet; the guidance did not.
What was revealed upon Prophet Muhammad is, in fact, a continuation and finalization of the divine Message? The Quran appeared when people had lost the original Message. In this context, the Creator declared in the Quran that He who revealed it would protect it. He would enable the Prophet to create conditions ensuring that not a single word of that divine Message is lost.
If we are serious in our affirmation that God does exist and He guides humanity to a better path, then we must also admit that He would ensure the accuracy of his guidance. He would not leave it to chance to get it compiled or preserved because one slight mistake in recording or preserving His words could be crucial. His majesty and organization are visible in everything that exists in the universe. Why would he leave His words unprotected and unorganized? If the previous messages were lost or forgotten, we must assume that He did not plan their preservation. He wanted to preserve the Message that he would repeat through a prophet in Arabia for the final time.
Only a prophet knew the Revelation to him. No one other than a prophet experienced it, and no one other than a messenger had the authority or the knowledge to decide to verify it. While none of the previously revealed books were written or preserved during the Prophet's lifetime, the Quran became the first Book, memorized, compiled, and written during the life of the Prophet who had received it. It was verified, checked, approved, and authenticated because he alone had the knowledge and authority to do so.
How did he do it?
The Quran and the books of ahadith (statements attributed to Prophet Muhammad) explain the process and the outcome. Even though some references in the writings of ahadith contradict the divine assertion about the preservation of the Quran, the overwhelming evidence proves that the Quran revealed to the Prophet is the same as we read today. Therefore, the presence of these traditions does not invalidate the authenticity of the Quran. Instead, they reveal their weaknesses.
Several anecdotes in our Islamic literature challenge the claim that the Prophet neglected his responsibility to preserve the Quran in his lifetime of Prophet Muhammad. For instance, some ahadith assert that Abu Bakr, the first Caliph who compiled the Quran. Another hadith says that Uthman bin Affan was the third Caliph who appointed a commission to finalize it. The simple fact is that none other than the Prophet had the knowledge of the Quran that came to him through the direct source, and he was the only one to determine the accuracy of the divine Revelation. A commission might have supervised copying the Quran, but how could it have performed a not qualified task. The Prophet would not have left the compilation of the Quran based on the evidence of other people. It was his duty, and he fulfilled it with utmost responsibility. It is ironic that in many of the Friday sermons, Uthman bin Affan gets the credit for compiling or collector the Quran without realizing that it is the Prophet and not Uthman bin Affan who had the duty, authority, and legitimacy to assemble and preserve the Quran. Those who say that the compilation of the Quran began at the suggestion of Umar, the second Caliph, ignored the simple fact that it was God who had given His word for the protection of the Quran through His Messenger, Prophet Muhammad. Those who say that the Prophet did not leave a completed written copy of the Quran before leaving this world have a very shortsighted understanding of the role of Prophethood.
Several ahadith also tell us that the Prophet's companions lost several verses of the Quran; hence they were not included in the final version. It is also an accusation and not fact because if the guidance got lost, and no one knew what those verses were, how do we know about their existence. Moreover, if the Prophet did not include them in the Quran, who are we to question the Prophet's decision about their inclusion or exclusion in the Book that we call a divine revelation? Hence, to say that parts of the Quran were lost is like accusing the Prophet of not doing his work correctly. No one in his right mind can ever think that.
There is also a claim that certain verses of the Quran got abrogated by other verses of the Quran. Scholars differ in their identification of these verses. Some say they are 600, and others say they are three. There is no authentic hadith of the Prophet that informs the believers what God canceled some verses, especially when verses in the Quran emphatically state, Behold, We have bestowed from on high, step by step, this reminder? (15:9) And convey [to the world] whatever revealed to you of your Sustainer's writ. Nothing could alter His words, and you can find no refuge other than with Him (18:27). No scholar has the authority to declare a word or letter abrogated. We cannot just dismiss the divine statement as a mere play of words when it comes to the Quran. Unfortunately, in this case, many scholars have twisted the terms of the Quran to hide their biases.
The hadith books also say that the written copies of the Quran in the personal use of many companions differed in the inclusion of chapters. First of all, none of these copies exist today. Secondly, whatever was available did not have any contradictions. Thirdly, none of the companions of the Prophet who had these copies ever claimed that they had the authentic reproduction of the Quran verified by the Prophet.
In these books of ahadith, we also read that the Prophet did not compile the Quran in its final form, and the companions of the Prophet used to carry in a sack or bag the scattered ayas (verses) of the Quran written on stones, leaves, wood and hide. It suggests that the Prophet did not put the Quran's surahs together as the ayas were scattered. Unless a companion knew the Quran by heart, it was almost impossible for him to put all the scattered ayas in sequence. Even a hafiz would find it hard to put together over 6,000 sparse verses in the proper series if they are separate.
These traditions promote the idea that the preservation of the Quran was not the priority of the one whose sole responsibility was to preserve it. The Quran says, addressing the Prophet: "Your duty is to convey the message." (3:20). When the Prophet addressed over 100,000 people in his final Hajj sermon, he asked, "did I convey the message to you, and each one of them responded, yes." He did not say part of the Message, or the Message communicated verbally only.
The authenticity of Islam depends on the accuracy of the Quran and the integrity of the Prophet. It rests on the assertion that it is the same as was revealed to Prophet Muhammad; and that he ensured that it was preserved forever through efforts that are well documented and well known. It also rests on the fact that nothing was added or removed from the Quran. Unfortunately, our Islamic literature has a lot that suggests that the Quran is not the same as we read today.
Thus, loyalty to deen rests on the simple fact that whatever we follow in the name of deen is divine, and the scripture is complete and does not have human ideas.
Unfortunately, many books on the Quran probably, unconsciously, promote the idea that the Prophet did not compile the Quran in his lifetime. The Quran refutes this and authenticates the integrity of the Prophet in preserving the final divine Message. The scholars tend to believe historians who wrote their work 300 years after the Prophet than to the Quran compiled and maintained in his lifetime.
The Quran was not for Arabs even though the language was Arabic, and the Prophet that delivered this Message was from them. The guidance of the Quran was for all people and for all time. In other words, those who did not know the Arabic language were also the Quran's addressee. (O Muhammad) tell them: "O humankind, I am the Messenger of Allah to all of you." (7:158) It was for the contemporaries of the Prophet as well as for those who would come after him. And beside them, even to others who have not yet joined them, Arabic speaking and non-Arabic speaking. "It means you are the Messenger to those who are to come after them." (62:3)
The Quran includes everything that was revealed to all previous messengers. "And We revealed to you this Book based on truth. It will validate in real earnest all the assertions made in the previously revealed books. And it has subsumed all the teachings of those Books." (5: 48)
The Quran introduces itself as "Allah's guidance based on truth and justice have been outlined in this Book in a complete form. None has the authority to make any change in these laws (15:9). God commanded the Prophet to "Present to them the Message given to you O Rasool; none shall change Allah's words (18:27). Not a single word of the Quran has changed since the time of its Revelation. "There is no doubt that it is We, Ourselves, who have bestowed this Quran step by step, and we shall see its preservation." (15:9). There is nothing in the Quran that is contrary to the truth. "The untruth, the wrong, the falsehood from anywhere, neither from the front nor from the back, will ever come by it." (41: 42).
Thus, in our world today, the Quran is the only divinely revealed Book that exists in its original form word by word, even though people attempted to prove that the companions of the Prophet and not the Prophet compiled the Book. The Quran and the books of ahadith confirm the following facts..
The Quran, as we read today in Arabic, is the same as it was during the time of Prophet Muhammad.
The Prophet compiled it under his supervision as he was the only one who received the divine revelations.
There were several copies of the entire Quran available to companions during his lifetime.
As we find in the Quran today, the order of surah is the same as it was at the Prophet's time.
There were scores of companions, men, and women, who knew the Quran by heart.
The Quran was the only source that the Prophet used to educate people about Allah's guidance.
The Quran that we read today is the same as that of people who followed him and the succeeding generations after them. They transmitted it through the written word as well as orally. There were no differences in pronunciations of the Quran.
The Prophet ensured that every Revelation is preserved in the writing and memory as he was fully aware of the changes people had brought in their scriptures.
The practice of writing at the time of the Prophet
The practice of writing and reading was common among the people of Arabia at the Prophet's time. The Quran urges the people: "Whenever you enter into the matter about giving loans for a particular period, commit it to write." (2: 284) The Quran explains that writing establishes the evidence. (2:282) Thus the Quran asserts: "(This Revelation) is preserved in such scrolls, which are the most respect-worthy, the holiest, the most cleansed, are of the highest grandeur, free of every inkling of any error, of any human inclination – pristine sacred. It is by the calligraphers, held of high esteem and exalted prestige in the society." (80: 13-16)
The Quran even mentions that: It is a written Book on the spread-out parchment, (52: 2-3) or "It is the most esteemed the noblest, Quran, preserved and conserved in the form of a Book." (56: 77-78). So there were at least 41 companions of the Prophet whose names we know who knew how to write and read. They included:
Handhala bin Rabee, Umr bin Rafey, Rafey bin Malik, Saad bin Ibadah, Usaid bin Hadheer, Munzir bin Rawah, Saad bin Ar Rabee, Abu Abas bin Jabar, Abdur Rehman, Abu Yunus Maula Ayesha, Abdur Rehman bin Hur bin Umr bin Zaid, Abdullah bin Saeed bin al Aas, Zaid bin Thabit, Abdullah bin Saad bin Abi Sarh, Abu Bakr, Umr, Uthman, Ali, Zubair bin Awwam, Khalid bin Saeed bin al Aas, Aban, Saad bin al-Aas, Handhala al Asadi, ala bin al-Hadhrami, Khalid bin Waleed, Muhammad bin Salma, Abdullah bin Abdullah bin Abi Salool, Mughera bin Shaba, Umr bin al Aas, Muawaiya bin Abi Sufiyan, Jaheem bin as Sulat, Muaqeeb bin Fatima, Abdullah bin Arqam and Sharjeel bin Hasana.
The tradition of writing was present among Arabs when the Prophet began his mission. He patronized it and improved it. For example, during the battle of the Badr, 70 members of the Makkan army became prisoners. The Prophet asked them to teach at least ten youth of Madina how to read and write. When these young people excelled in the art of reading and writing, the prisoners were released. (Tabaqat ibn Saad, Volume II, P 14)
In Medina, one of the first tasks that the Prophet assigned to Abdullah bin Saeed was to teach the people of Medina how to read and write.
Yahya Bermaki was the first one who introduced paper for writing among Arabs. (Muqaddama Ibn Khaldun) Some people suggest that it was Hujjaj bin Yusuf who introduced it first. The Khurasan paper with cotton became popular during the time of Bani Ummayad; Many historians assert that it predates the Ummayad period as the Chinese first introduced it in Khurasan (Sanajat-u-Tarb)
In his Book Miftahul Afkar, the author records several letters and treaties written at the Prophet's instance to different tribes and rulers. The agreement of Hudaibiya was one of them. History also tells us that the famous Muallaqat, known as Saba Muallaqat, hanged on the door of the Kaaba in writing during the Prophet's time in Makkah.
There were two popular methods used during that time to put things in writing. People used to write on thin parchments prepared from the hides of animals, known as Riq. The Quran also uses this word. There was also something called Mehriq. Lisan ul Arab describes Mehriq as an excellent thin hide produced for writing. The Quran also uses the word Qirtas as a material used for writing. "If We had sent unto thee a written (message) on parchment, so that they could touch it with their hands, the Unbelievers would have been sure to say: "This is nothing but obvious magic!" (6:7)
For, no true understanding of God has they when they say, "Never has God revealed anything unto man." Say: "Who has bestowed from on high the divine writ which Moses brought unto men as a light and guidance, [and] which you treat as [mere] leaves of paper, making a show of them the while you conceal [so] much - although you have been taught [by it] what neither you nor your forefathers had ever known?" Say: "God [has revealed that divine writ]!" - and then leave them to play at their vain talk. (6:91)
The paper was in use at the time of the Revelation, and Allah used the word to emphasize the importance of writings.
The Prophet was very particular about the availability of the means of writing to him. It was to ensure the writing of the Message of Allah instantly. For instance, during the journey to Medina, the migrating caravan carried a pen, inkpot, and paper. The letter written to Suraqa, who was chasing him during the trip, provides evidence to this fact.
Thus, it is evident that many Muslims knew how to read and write at the time of the Prophet. The writing material was readily available, and the community of believers under the leadership of the Prophet was aware of preserving the divine revelations in writing. Therefore, the Prophet would instantly ask the available scribers to write down the Revelation and teach the believers to memorize the portion.
Motivation to learn the Quran
The Quran was the text the Prophet used to teach Allah's Revelation to people. "The best among you is the one who learns the Quran and teaches it." (Uthman bin Affan in Bukhari)
"The one who reads the Quran is like a fruit that tastes good and whose smell is also good, and the one who does not read it is like a good date, but that does not have a good smell. (Abu Musa in Bukhari)
"On the Day of Judgment, the reciters of the Quran would be asked to read the Quran the way they used to recite in the world and climb up, and wherever their recitation completes, that place would become their home." (Abdullah ibn Umar in Ahmed, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawood, and Nasai)
The Prophet said that he was commanded to sit in the company of those who read the Quran. (Abu Saeed in Abu Dawood)
Uthman bin Abi al Aas reported that as part of the delegation of Bani Thaqif, I came to the Prophet, and he taught me to read the Quran. (Tabaqat ibn Saad, Volume VII), page 27)
Ibn Masood reported that we used to learn ten ayas (verses) from the Prophet in one lesson, and after we had memorized it we would learn the next 10. (Bukhari)
Abu Darda reported that he read the entire Quran from the Prophet. (Bukhari)
It is reported that the Prophet asked the people to learn the Quran from Ibn Masood, Salim Maula Abu Hudhaifa, Abi ibn Kaab, and Maaz. (Bukhari)
Ubadah bin as Samit reported that whenever any would migrate to Medina, the Prophet would connect him with one of his companions to learn the Quran.
During the 10 Hijri Ramadan, ten people from the tribe of Aamir accepted Islam. As long as they remained in Medina, they learned the Quran from Ubai ibn Kaab (Muqaddamma ibn Khaldun)
The same year, people from the tribe of Bani Hanifa accepted Islam, and they also learned the Quran from Ubai ibn Kaab.
It is reported that Khubab ibn al-Arat used to teach the Quran to the sister of Umar bin Khattab and her husband regularly from the written material.
After the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet asked Maaz bin Jabal to teach the Quran. So in the 10th Hijra Maaz went to Yemen to start giving mass education of the Quran. When the people of Daqa and Adhal accepted Islam, the Prophet sent Marthad, Aasim, Khubaib, Khalid bin Bakr, Zaid bin Dathna and Abdullah bin Tariq to teach them the Quran.
Whenever any tribe would come to Medina to accept Islam, the Prophet would appoint a companion to teach them the Quran and instruct some to accompany the tribe back to their place to help them acquire the knowledge of the divine revelations.
During the fourth Hijra, when one of the tribal leaders of Najad came to Medina, he requested Quran teachers for his people. As a result, some 70 teachers of the Quran went with him. If the number of instructors exceeded 70 in the Hijra's initial stages, one does not have to guess the importance of learning and teaching the Quran during the Prophet's lifetime.
Thus the spirit of learning and teaching the Quran was a norm of the time. Everyone knew a part or full of the revealed Quran. The Quran was the textbook, the Quran was the curriculum, and the Quran was the applied science of the time.
The Writing of the Quran
There were several companions of the Prophet who knew how to read and write. Among them were Abu Abas bin Heer, Ubai bin Kaab, Saad bin Rabee, Shahur bin Saeed, Awus in Zaid, Awus bin Khauli, al-Muzir bin Umr, Usaid bin Hudhair, Saad bin Ubadah, Rafey bin Malik, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and many others.
Ibn Abdul Bir mentions the name of at least 24 companions who were always available to put words in writing for the Prophet. Among them were Ubai bin Kaab, Zaid bin Thabit, Abdullah bin Saad, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Zubair bin Awwam, Khalid, Aban, Saeed, Handhala, Alaa, Khalid bin Waleed, Abdullah bin Rawah, Muhammad bin Muslamah, Abdullah bin Salool, Mughaira bin Shuaba, Umr bin Aas, Muwaiya bin Sufiyan, Hajam bin as Sult, Muaqeeb bin Fatima, Sharjeel bin Hasana, Abdullah bin Arqam.
Thus, the Quran was not only in the memory of hundreds of companions, male and female, but also in writing form at the Prophet's time. The Quran was memorized by hundreds of the companions of the Prophet. "These are the lucid verses, (preserved) in the hearts of the people who have been bestowed with the knowledge of (Wahi)." (29: 49).
There was a Master Copy of the Quran. It was in a box near the pillar of the pulpit at Prophet's Mosque. It was the same copy that the Messenger of Allah used to ask the calligraphers to write the revealed verses. Its name was Imam or Umm in their dialect, and the name of the pillar was "Astawaana Mashaf". Sitting by this pillar, the companions, under the MessengerMessenger's supervision, wrote many copies.
Professor Hamidullah, a noted Islamic scholar of the last century, writes: "The sources all agree in stating that whenever a fragment of the Qur'an came down, the Prophet called one of his literate companions and dictated it to him. The Prophet Muhammad also recommended that the faithful learn the Quran by heart. Thus, the method of doubly preserving the text both in writing and by memorization proved extremely precious."
From this copy, several copies were made and distributed in all parts of the Muslim world. The first Caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr, asked Prophet Muhammad's chief scribe, Zaid Ibn Thabit, to make copies of the Quran. Caliph Omar bin Khattab (R), subsequently made a single volume (mushaf) that he preserved and gave on his death to his daughter Hafsa, the Prophets' widow."
Imam ibn Hazm has noted down in his Book Kitab al Fisl: "During the period of the first Caliph, there was no city where the inhabitants had not had several personal copies of the Quran. And during the period of Caliph Omer, the number of written copies of this majestic work, the Quran, was not less than one hundred thousand.
The third Caliph, Uthman bin Affan asked a commission to prepare seven or eight copies of the Quran from the master copy. One of his authentic copies was in Madina. A 3rd-century researcher, Abu Ubaida Al-Qasim bin Salaam (d. 223 H.) in his Kitaab-ul-Qiraat, claims to have seen that copy of the Quran. Ibn Batuta, a Muslim traveler, says that Abu Bakr al Shaashi placed it on Abdullah's shrine. When the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic came into being this very copy of the Quran came to the Balschiwk's hands. The information regarding this copy published in a Soviet Journal (Soviet Vase) in 1995 indicated that this very copy of Uthmaan (Mashaf-i-Usmaani) was in Timur's library, established in 1393 AD. After the Russian Revolution in 1917 AD, this copy of the Quran reached Ufa through Muslim representatives of the Russian Parliament. Then it was brought to Tashkent. (Source: Abu Mahfooz-ul-Karim Masoomi: Mashafey Usmaan key T'areekhi Nuskhey (The historical copies of the Quran of Mashaf-I-Usmaan) published in the Journal of Uloom-I-Qslamia, December 1961 printed and published by Aligarh University)
Fakhry Pasha, the governor of Turkey, and other sacred documents took this copy to Constantinople, and now it is there. Shibly Nomani, noted biographer of the Prophet in his writing, is said to have seen a copy of the original Quran in the Damascus University in 1896. One copy of the Quran is in Paas; another copy is in the library of Khadairya (Egypt). Several copies of the Quran written by Messenger's companions are in various libraries and museums of India, Iran, Egypt, Arabia, and Turkey.
In Istanbul Library, there are copies Quran written by Uthman bin Affan (R), Ali bin Abi Talib (R) wrote in his handwriting, and this copy is in Istanbul. Other handwritten copies of the Quran, including Zain ul Aabedeen and Zaid bin Thabit, Usmaan, Hasan bin Ali, and Sajjad are in the museum-archeological section of Iran. Maurice Bucaille, in his Book The Bible, The Qur'an and Science, writes that: "It (The Quran) got written down at the time of the Prophet (p.126); The Qur'an (is) a book of written Revelation (p.127); As the Revelation progressed, the Prophet and the believers following him recited the text by heart, and the scribes also wrote it down in his following (p.127); Long before the Prophet left Makka for Madina the Quranic text so far revealed had been written down (p.128); The Quran itself, therefore, provides indications as to the fact that it was set down in writing at the time of the Prophet. It is a known fact that there were several scribes in his following, the most famous of whom Zaid Ibn Thabit has left his name to posterity (p.129)."
In 2019, the University of Cambridge displayed a manuscript of the Quran written during the Prophet's lifetime.
Thus, the fact is well established that the Quran was preserved in writing in its complete form, the same way we have today at the Prophet's time.