The Recording of the Qur’an and Its Preservation
From the very beginning of its revelation, the Prophet’s Companions, may God be pleased with them, paid the utmost attention to the Qur’an, and tried their best to understand, memorize and learn it.
It is commonly accepted that during human history, God the Almighty sent 124,000 prophets. According to the Islamic definition, a Prophet is one who comes with important tidings, the “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 during history 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. 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 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 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.
In this world, God the Almighty acts behind natural or material causes. So He has created, and will create, causes or means to preserve the Qur’an. One of these means, and one of the reasons why the Almighty allowed His previous Scriptures to be corrupted and “undertook” to preserve the Qur’an, is that the Companions of the Prophet and the succeeding Muslim generations were devoted to their Book more than any other people being devoted to their own, and tried their utmost to preserve it without the least alteration. With the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, God perfected Islam in a way to be able to address all levels of knowledge of understanding which exist and to solve the problems of humankind which will appear until the Last Day.
Therefore, there would be no need for another Prophet to revive or restore the religion and no further Book to be revealed. So, as the first step to preserving the Qur’an, it was written down during the life of the 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 Qur’an that have been circulating throughout the world during the 14 centuries of Islam.
In considering the fact that, unlike other Scriptures preceding it, the Qur’an has been preserved in its original form or text, without a single alteration, addition or deletion, the following points are of considerable significance:
The Qur’an was revealed in parts. God the Almighty undertook not only the preservation of the Qur’an 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 Qur’an 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 Qur’an, 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-Praise-worthy (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 Qur’an that had been revealed until that year. In his last year, after the completion of the Qur’an’s revelation, Gabriel came twice for this purpose. The Messenger concluded from this that his emigration to the other world was near. (Yıldırım, 43, 62–3)
From the very beginning of its revelation, the Prophet’s Companions, may God be pleased with them, paid the utmost attention to the Qur’an, and tried their best to understand, memorize and learn it. This was, in fact, the order of the Qur’an:
And so, when the Qur’an 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 Qur’an’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 Qur’an. They attempted to do so because the recitation of some portion out of the Qur’an is obligatory in the prescribed prayers; because the Qur’an 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 Qur’an and the number of those who memorized it, it suffices to mention that in the disaster of Bi’r al-Ma‘unah, which took place just a few years after the Emigration, 70 Companions who had memorized the Qur’an were martyred. Another 70 or so memorizers of the Qur’an were also martyred in other similar events and battles during the life of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings (as-Salih, 55).
When the Prophet died, there were several Companions who knew the Qur’an 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’d-Darda, Ubeyy ibn Ka‘b, as well as A’ishah and Umm Salamah, wives of the Prophet. When a person was converted into Islam or emigrated to Madinah, the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, sent him to a Companion to teach him the Qur’an. Since a humming sound was raised when the learners of the Qur’an began reciting, the Prophet asked them to lower their voices not to confuse one another. (as-Salih, 57 , reporting from az-Zarkani)
The Qur’an was revealed in parts mostly on certain 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 Qur’an. (The Qur’an was revealed within 23 years. However, it was called the Qur’an since the beginning of its revelation.) Those whom the Messenger employed in the writing down of the Qur’an were called the Scribes of the Revelation. Histories give the names of 40 or so among them. In addition to writing down the parts of the Qur’an revealed, the Scribes copied them for themselves and preserved them. (as-Salih, 61, reporting from al-Burhan by az-Zarkashi.)
When the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, died, several Companions, such as ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, Mu‘adh ibn Jabal, Abu’d-Darda, and Ubayy ibn Ka‘b, had already collected the portions of the Qur’an as a complete book. ‘Ali had arranged them according to the revelation time of the chapters. (M.M. Puye, 95–8, reporting from al-Itqan by as-Suyuti, and also from at-Tabarani and Ibn al-Asakir.) Following the death of the Prophet, when around 700 memorizers of the Qur’an were martyred in the Battle of Yamamah, U‘mar ibn al-Khattab applied to the Caliph Abu Bakr with the request that they should have an “official” version of the Qur’an, since the memorizers of the Qur’an were being martyred in the battles. Zayd ibn Thabit, one of the leading scholars and memorizers of the Qur’an at that time, was chosen for the task. After a meticulous work, Zayd prepared the official collection, which was called the Mushaf. (Yıldırım, 62–66; as- Salih, 62–65).
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 Qur’an were arranged and collected as a book by the instructions of the Prophet himself, upon him be peace and blessings, as guided by the Revelation. After the Battle of Yamamah, an official version was brought about 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 (Yıldırım, 66-70; as-Salih, 65–73).
One of the foremost reasons for the Qur’an 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 copy of the Qur’an now in our hands, in the sense that it is in the very words which were uttered 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 uttered by the Messenger, as part of the Qur’an. In other words, the version we have in our hands is undoubtedly the Qur’an as recited by the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.