Friday, November 24, 2017 - 6 Rabi' al-Awwal 1439

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If the Qur`an was assembled after the Prophet's death, how can we make sure that it was consolidated in its original arrangement?

If the Qur`an was assembled after the Prophet's death, how can we make sure that it was consolidated in its original arrangement?

Answer

We need to differentiate between two forms of divine revelations received by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) during the 23 years of his mission. The first and the more important is the Qur`an, which is the word of God to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in both word and meaning. It is the form of revelation whose reading is an act of worship. It is read both in prayer and at other times. The other form of revelation is hadith expressed in the Prophet’s own words. To put it differently, the meaning of God’s words were revealed to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and he expressed it in the way he chose. While hadith is to be studied and acted upon, its reading is not an act of worship and it cannot be recited in prayer as part of it.

How the Qur`an was recited, taught, recorded and compiled during the Prophet’s lifetime and in the early days after his death is well-documented. Numerous books and theses were written on the subject. The best work on this matter in English is Professor Azami's recent book, The History of the Qur'anic Text from Revelation to Compilation published by UK Islamic Academy. The publisher's address is "P.O. Box 6645, Leicester, LE5 5WT, United Kingdom.

The Qur`an is both referred to within the text itself by this name and by ‘The Book’. The word ‘Qur`an’ means 'something that is to be recited or vocalized', while ‘The Book’ refers to something that is written. It is in both these forms that the Qur`an was preserved and handed down to us intact over generations. Ever since its first day of revelation, Muslims committed the Qur`an to memory and were taught how to memorize it by competent teachers. When one memorizes a passage or a Surah of the Qur`an, one does not want to forget it. Therefore, one recites it as often as possible, both in prayers and at other times. The motivation is always present because God rewards the reciter for every letter. Besides, the Qur`an has a unique appeal and superior style, as well as refined rhythm and tenor. It is charming to read and delightful to recite. When one add all this to the fact that reading it is an act of worship, one realizes why Muslims revere the Qur`an and continue to read and recite it at all times.

The Qur`an was revealed in short or long passages over a period of 23 years. Every time a verse, passage or Surah was revealed, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who was unlettered, called one of his scribes and dictated it to him. The scribe would write it down in the presence of other people whose number was never less than three. As the Arabs were mostly an unlettered community, they did not have any sophisticated writing materials. Those privileged with an education were the scribes who recorded whatever the Prophet (peace and be upon him) dictated on scrolls, palm-date stems, bones and similar material.

The Qur`an comprises 114 units, each of which is called a Surah, an Arabic word used only to refer to these Qur`anic units. The word is derived from ‘soor’ which means ‘fence’. Thus a Surah is a well-marked, clearly defined unit of the Qur`an which cannot be added to or deducted from. The length of the Surahs differ, some are very short while others are very long. God would reveal to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) a passage or a few verses of a long Surah through the Angel Gabriel who would also tell him their exact location in the overall order of the Surah and in the Qur`an in general. What should be understood here is that the Qur`an is God's book: He is the author and His instructions define its shape and final form. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) only conveyed it to us as he was instructed to do.

Moreover, Gabriel would visit the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) every year in Ramadan and they would read the Qur`an together. In the last year of the Prophet's life, they read it together twice in its complete form. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) read it out to his Companions during prayers and at other times, keeping to the arrangement of its Surahs.

Can we say that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) intended the Qur`an to remain in fragments and have everyone figure out how it should be collated? Certainly not. We are not dealing with a riddle or something undefined. As the Qur`an is also called ‘The Book’, it has been preserved in its written form. The Qur`an was collated in a single copy during the time of Abu Bakr, the first ruler of the Islamic State after the Prophet’s death. He was the Prophet's closest Companion and one of the first five persons to accept Islam. His rule lasted less than two years. This means that the Qur`an was compiled in one complete copy and in today’s present order during the first two years of the Prophet's death.

A second effort of compilation and standardization was undertaken by Osman ibn Affan, the third Caliph who ruled from 22 to 36 A.H. Since the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) died in 11 A.H., this means that this second effort was undertaken only 15 years after his death. It was an effort that not only matched but excelled the best standards of research the world's most famous and stringent academic institutions or universities may require today. Several copies were made and a copy was sent to every inhabited center in the Islamic State for easy reference. Since that time, countless copies have been produced. You do not find any difference between them despite the fact that printing is a relatively recent development.


The Qur`an was preserved in its two forms. As a text to be read, it was taught and learned by word of mouth and memorized by millions of Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Teachers could not undertake the task of teaching the Qur`an unless they were licensed to do so by their own teachers. The written text, which is not different from the recited one, has been authenticated and preserved since the Prophet's time.

Scholars have stipulated three rules to accepting any text as part of the Qur`an:
1) It should conform to the written version collated by the third Caliph, Osman.
2) It should conform to the grammatical rules of Arabic.
3) It should be learned through a continuous chain of teachers reaching up to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), with many teachers authorizing it at every stage.
The first condition relates to the written form and the third to the verbal form.
No other scripture or text belonging to any other faith comes even close to the scrupulous preservation of the Qur`an over successive generations.
 

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