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Recording of the Qur’an

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Recording of the Qur’an

2020. január 21. - 17:08

 

Many disputes can be heard about the authenticity of the Holy Quran. Let’s take a look how it was registered and compiled in book format.

The picture is an illustration! - @ Mihálffy Balázs

The revelations were recorded contemporaneously by one of the scribes appointed by the Prophet for this purpose. After every revelation, the Prophet would come out to the public (unless he was already outside) and recite to the people the new verses. He would also instruct one of the scribes to write it down.

According to authentic Hadith literature, he would tell them where the new revelation was to be positioned in relationship to previous revelations. He would tell the Surah where the new revelation would go and the preceding and succeeding Ayahs.

The scribes would write on whatever material was available at the moment. Thus, the writing medium ranged from a stone, the leaf of a palm tree, shoulder-bone of a camel, the membrane on the inside of a deer-skin, a parchment or a papyrus. These writings were stored in a corner of the Prophet’s room and later, perhaps, in a separate room or office near the Prophet’s room. It should be mentioned that while Al Qur’an means a recitation, it also calls itself “The Book”.

The root word for book, k-t-b, occurs in the Qur’an more than 300 times. The word and concept of Surah is also in the Qur’an; and so is the word Ayah. The Makkans, being a merchant society, had a large pool of those who could read and write. There were as many as 11 scribes during the early part of the Medina period also. The most prominent of these was an elderly gentleman, named Ubayy ibn Ka`b. The Prophet was then introduced to an energetic teenager named Zayd ibn Thabit. He was eager to learn and was placed directly under the Prophet’s supervision. After he had accomplished his initial assignments in record time, the Prophet made him in charge of the Qur’anic record. Zayd became the principal scribe, organizer, and keeper of the record. Hundreds of people memorized the Qur’an and many wrote what they learned. But keeping up with the new revelations and the changing arrangement of the Ayahs in the Surahs was not possible except for a few. To keep up, hundreds regularly reviewed the Qur’an they knew. Many did this under the Prophet’s own guidance.

Others did it under the supervision of teachers designated by the Prophet. Those from remote areas, who had visited once, or occasionally, may not have kept up. Some, who wrote what they had learned, may not have inserted the new revelations in the manner prescribed by the Prophet. The Prophet was meticulous about the integrity of the Qur’an. He constantly recited, in public, the Surahs as they were arranged at the time. It is reported that angel Gabriel reviewed entire Qur’an with the Prophet once a year during the month of Ramadan. This review was done twice during the last year of the Prophet’s life. And Zayd maintained the records faithfully, kept them properly indexed, and made sure they were complete according to Prophet’s instructions.

At the time of the Prophet’s death, Zayd had a complete record of all revelations except the first Ayah of Surah 9, the Al Taubah. The Prophet used to indicate the completion of a Surah by instructing the sentence, “(I begin) In the name of God, The Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate” be written at its beginning. This wording at the beginning of each Surah became both a separator from others and an indication that the Surah was now complete.

This formulation is missing from the 9th Surah, indicating that no one wanted to add anything to the Qur’an that the Prophet had himself not ordered, even if seemed logical to do so.

Formal compilation as a "book"

After the Prophet’s death, the community chose Abu Bakr as their temporal chief, the Khalifah of the Messenger, the Caliph. About a year later, a large number of those known as authoritative memorizers were killed in a battle. According to authentic Hadith literature, `Umar Ibn al Khattab (who became the second Caliph) was alarmed by this and concerned that the next generation may not have enough teachers of the Qur’an. He, therefore, approached Abu Bakr, and suggested that a formal compilation of the Qur’an be prepared on materials that would be convenient to store, maintained, and used as a reference.

After a few days, however, he “became inclined” to the idea and asked Zayd to undertake the task. Zayd says he also hesitated but, after contemplation, also “became inclined” and agreed to undertake the work. A committee was formed to do the job. They compiled a collection by checking and double checking each Ayah of the existing record of the Qur’an with the memories of each member of the committee as well as of the other prominent experts. This copy was housed with the Prophet’s wife Hafsa. (She was a daughter of `Umar ibn al Khattab). By the time of the third Caliph, `Uthman ibn `Affan, the Muslim population had spread over vast areas outside the core Arab regions and many people of other cultures were entering Islam.

About 15 years after the first compilation, therefore, it was suggested that authenticated copies of the Qur’an be made available to major population centers in those areas. Zayd again was instructed to undertake the task. He again formed a committee. Instead of just making copies of the existing text, they decided to seek corroboration of each Ayah in the earlier compilation with at least two other written records in the private copies in the possession of known reputable individuals.

It is reported that this comparison was successful for all Ayahs except one. For this Ayah, only one comparison could be found. But it was in the hands of a person who was considered so reliable by the Prophet himself that his lone testimony was accepted by the Prophet in a case requiring two witnesses. It is reported that, 7 copies of the collection were prepared and authenticated. One of these copies was given to the Caliph himself. One became the reference copy for the people of Madinah, one was sent to Makkah, one to Kufah, and one to Damascus. (I was unable to find references to the destination of the other copies). We should mention that the committee, while doing its work, confirmed the general observation that all private copies were incomplete, some were out of sequence, some were in tribal dialects other than the standard Quraish dialect, and many had marginal notes inserted by the owners.

They expressed concern that as time passes the context of these deficiencies will be lost. These partial copies may get into public circulation after the death of the owners of these records and become a source of schisms and create confusion. They, therefore, recommended that all such copies be destroyed. The Caliph issued orders to that effect but did not put in place any mechanisms for enforcing the orders. There is sufficient evidence that some people kept their copies and some were used by mischief makers to create controversies that did not succeed.

Those Authentic copies of the Qur’an are known as the “`Uthmani” text. This text, however, did not have the short vowels that are even today left out of Arabic text used by those who know the language. In the absence of these short vowels, however, those not well versed in the language can make serious mistakes.

These vowels were, therefore, inserted about 60 years later under instructions of the governor of Kufa, named Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf.

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