The process of the compilation of the Qur`an: was it prone to error?
The process of the compilation of the Qur`an: was it prone to error?
The question of the Qur`an’s authenticity is a fairly new issue and one that was virtually non-existent in the past. Certainly in Muslim circles, the question of the Qur`an’s authenticity is not an issue at all since from the creedal stand point, the Qur`an is the eternal Word of God revealed from AI-Lawh AI-Mahfuz (the Preserved Tablet) to the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him). Accordingly, Muslims view the Qur`an as comprising the literal words of God. Its words and verses are eternal, preserved and protected from fabrication.
As for the Qur`an’s historical context, it must be remembered that the Arabs of pre-Islamic Arabia were an oral people. Their primary method of preserving important facts was by composing them into poetry and committing the verses to memory. In essence, mastery of language and ability to memorize were the greatest legacies of the pre-Islamic Arabia. The fact that the Qur`an was not "written" in one complete manuscript before Uthman’s Caliphate does not mean that the Arabs before them were not able to preserve it in its entirety. Memorization was the medium of preserving facts, so much so that memory was relied upon more than the written material. This tradition continued well into the Islamic era and the memorization of texts was always a pre-requisite of scholarship.
The Qur`an's language (Arabic), while not exactly poetry, is rich and sophisticated; it easily captivated the Arabs. In fact, it was precisely the Qur`an that caused so much of a stir in Arabia, that it challenged the status quo and out did the best poetry the Arabs composed, posing a direct threat to the ruling elite and their established ways.
Two main factors assisted the early Muslims to memorize the Qur`an as it was revealed:
1- The Qur`an was revealed piecemeal and not all at once. This allowed its meaning to permeate minds and souls and allowed its followers to gradually understand the message, internalizing it first and then teaching it to others.
2- The structure of the Qur`an and the manner in which it is recited create a harmony that appeals to the ears of an Arabic speaker. The structure of the verses creates an intricate pattern of similar sounding words and tones. The Qur`an was never just read, it was always recited according to the rules of tajwid (Qur`anic recitation), allowing these patterns to be accentuated.
For example, chapter one hundred of the Qur`an reads as:
1 By the (Steeds) that run, with panting (breath),
2 And strike sparks of fire,
3. And push home the charge in the morning,
4. And raise the dust in clouds the while,
5. And penetrate forthwith into the midst (of the foe) en masse;-
6. Truly, man is ungrateful to his Lord;
7. And to that (fact) he bears witness (by his deeds);
8. And violent is he in his love of wealth.
9. Does he not know when that which is in the graves is scattered abroad?
10. And that which is (locked up) in (human) breasts is made manifest?
11. That their Lord had been Well-Acquainted with them (even to) that Day?
This short chapter is composed of eleven verses. The verse endings can be classified into four categories:
- The first group: It includes the first three verses in which each verse ends in the letter ‘H’ (ha) i.e. dabha, qadha and subha.
- The second group: It includes the fourth and fifth verses each ending with 'ayn ('aa); naq'aa and jam'aa.
- The third group: It includes verse six through eight in which each verse ends with the letter ‘dal’ (d) i.e. lakanud, lashaheed and lashdeed.
- The last group: It includes the remaining verses, i.e. nine through eleven, in which each verse ends with the letter ‘ra'’ (r) i.e. aI-qobur, al-sodur and lakhabeer.
Furthermore, we see that verses six through eleven all end in long vowels—either ‘ya'’ or ‘waw’. The combination of the ending letters with the long vowels forms a rhythmic pattern found almost throughout the Qur`an.
There are two other factors that make this chapter easy to memorize. First, the chapter itself and its verses are short. The verses employ few words to maximize meaning and at the same time minimize the number of words needed to convey the meaning. This is exactly what fasahah (eloquence) in the Arabic language stands for. The second factor is the coupling of meaning found throughout the chapter. For example, the first three verses comprise an oath sworn by the running steeds in battle while verses four and five provide detailed information about these steeds in battle. Thus, the first five verses revolve around one topic. Verse six proclaims man’s ingratitude to his Lord. Verse seven confirms this ingratitude, and verse eight expresses repulsion for man's love of worldly things, a cause of his ingratitude. Finally, the last three verses of the chapter serve as a warning to man to forsake his heedlessness. This progression and coupling of meaning, combined with the short nature of the chapter and its verses, add to the end rhymes. All of this serves to facilitate memorization and means that the reciter is always conscious of chapter’s meaning. The same can be said of the other Qur`anic chapters.
The early Muslims and Muslims of all generations become familiar with the Qur`an by memorizing it. The message of the Qur`an from the beginning was oral i.e. it was transmitted verbally and incorporated within oneself through listening. This pattern was mimicked and passed on to others, orally, who in turn memorized it and passed it on until our present time. Anyone who memorizes the Qur`an with a licensed teacher receives a certificate with an isnad (a chain of transmitters), connecting the student to the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him), displaying the men and women who memorized the Qur`an and passed it on to each generation.
Upon receiving revelations, the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him) would order some of his Companions to write down the new verses. Many Companions wrote down the verses on various parchments. During the Prophet’s life, two methods were used to document and preserve the Qur`an. The first was rote learning and the second written documentation of which there were several concurrent copies. However, the Arabs, being a primarily oral people, relied on memorization. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was considered the foremost authority according to Islamic historiography as he reviewed the Qur`an with Gabriel once a year and twice in the year he died. Many Companions were able to memorize the Qur`an from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Some of them memorized parts of the Qur`an and others memorized the entire Qur`an. Of the Companions who memorized the entire Qur`an, seven were considered an authority on it after the Prophet. Their memorization was authorized by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and he gave them an ijaza (license) to teach and transmit it to others.
When Caliphs Abu Bakr and 'Osman sought to compile the Qur`an in one volume, these seven Companions were consulted and their knowledge of the Qur`an guided the entire project.
• The First Compilation the Qur`an
During the battle of Yamamah, seventy of the men who had memorized the Qur`an died. This was a matter of great concern for the community leaders as they wondered what was to become of the preservation of the Qur`an. 'Umar ibn AI-Khattab suggested to Caliph Abu Bakr that they compile the Qur`an in one official volume, thus providing another way to perpetuate its teaching. The compiled copy was not meant for mass production and distribution, but rather was to be preserved in a safe place for reference.
The task was completed and one volume or mus-haf was compiled. When Abu Bakr died and 'Umar succeeded him, the mus-haf was passed on to him for safekeeping. And when 'Umar died, the mus-haf went into the keeping of his daughter and the Prophet’s wife, Hafsah.
As previously mentioned, up until this time the mus-haf was not the source of the Qur`an. The source was those who had memorized it and received authorization of their memorization. This first compilation of the Qur`an took place by collecting the different parchments upon which the Companions wrote the Qur`an when it was being revealed. Accordingly, the first mus-haf contained the entire Qur`an in the chronological order in which it was revealed and not in its final present day canonical order.
II. The Second Compilation of the Qur`an
The second compilation of the Qur`an took place during the caliphate of 'Uthman who himself was among the Companions who had committed the entire Qur`an to memory. By this time, Muslims memorized the Qur`an in its different canonical recitations and formed groups based on these recitations. This caused some tension and division among the scholars and students of the Qur`an and certainly made the elders concerned about the unity of the Muslim community. One Companion, Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, advised the Caliph to take action. Osman decided that a second and final compilation of the Qur`an was needed but one that was to have a standard script so as to be applicable to all the canonical recitations. To gain support and legitimacy for this, Caliph Osman chose one member from the Ansar (Muslims who were originally from Madinah) Zayd ibn Thabit and three from the Muhajireen (those Muslims who had migrated from Makkah to Madinah), 'Abdul Allah ibn az-Zubayr, Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqas and 'Abdul Rahman ibn Harith ibn Hashim, all of who were respected members of the Muslim community. Zayd ibn Thabit was put in charge of the compilation team because:
1. He was among those who wrote down the Qur`an during the Madinese period.
2. He was among those who memorized the Qur`an at the hands of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and received his approval and permission in its memorization and recitation.
3. He was the only one who attended the final two recitations of the Qur`an with the Prophet of Islam and Gabriel.
4. He was the one who had compiled the first mus-haf under Caliph Abu Bakr.
For the second compilation of the Qur`an and in their efforts to make it a standard copy for the rest of history, the commissioned team adopted two general rules:
1. The mus-haf that was compiled at the time of Caliph Abu Bakr would be used as a reference. This meant that nothing that was not found in the first mus-haf would be considered for the second.
2. Every single verse must be found verbatim in accordance with the memory of at least two Companions who had memorized the Qur`an at the hands of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). The only exception to this rule was the Companion Abu Khuzaymah aI-Ansari of whom the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said that his testimony was equal to two men. Thus if he had memorized a verse, it was sufficient for the second manuscript.
The team commenced to compile the Qur`an for the second and last time in Islamic history. The mus-haf they produced, known as the mus-haf of Osman, was accepted by everyone and became the standard for all others. All other copies that existed, including the mus-haf of Ibn Mas'ud, were collected and destroyed under the directive of Caliph Osman. This measure was taken because the few copies that existed, especially that of Ibn Mas'ud, included interlined note explanations. The destruction of these copies insured that these commentaries would never be confused for Qur`anic text and later added to it.
The mus-haf of Osman thus represented the first compilation and the second that was compiled according to the conditions set to guarantee that the authority of the first compilation was upheld. Every verse that was written on any parchment and which corresponded verbatim with the memory of two Companions who had memorized the Qur`an, was placed in the mus-haf. Also, any commentary or recitation style that was not accepted by the Companions was removed from the mus-haf to standardize the mus-haf of Osman.
The Companions who undertook this project and the rest who supported them believed firmly in the message and teachings of the Qu`ran. They embraced their task as a matter of life and death, since they strongly believed that the message of Islam is the way to salvation in the Hereafter. They dedicated their lives to this cause and sacrificed almost everything they had to ensure that the Qur`an was preserved and transmitted unchanged for subsequent generations. To assume that they were careless in their efforts goes against the true reality of their stance and beliefs.