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Quran Formation

Nowadays people always dispute how the Quran was revealed, how was it copied, spread among the people and if there is more than one Quran. The follwing should help allievate this problem.

Quran literally means reading or recitation. While dictating this to his disciples, the Prophet Mohammad(pbuh) assured them that it was the Divine revelation that had come to him. He did not dictate the whole at one stretch: the revelations came to him in fragments from time to time. As soon as he received one, he used to communicate it to his disciples and ask them not only to learn it by heart. in order to recite it during the service of worship, but also to write it down and to multiply the copies. On each such occasion, he indicated the precise place of the new revelation in the text of till-then-revealed Quran; his was not a chronological compilation. One cannot admire too much this precaution and care taken for accuracy, when one takes into consideration the standard of the culture of the Arabs of the time.

It is reasonable to believe that the earliest revelations received by the Prophet(pbuh) were not committed to writing immediately, for the simple reason that there were then no disciples or adherents. These early portions were neither long nor numerous. There was no risk that the Prophet(pbuh) would forget them, since he recited them often in his prayers and proselytizing talks.

Some facts of history give us an idea of what happened. Umer is considered to be the 40th person to embrace Islam. This refers to the year 5 of the Mission (8 before Hijra). Even at such an early date there existed written copies of certain Chapters of the Quran, and as ibn Hisham reports, it was due to the profound effects produced by the perusal of some such document that Umer embraced Islam. We do not know precisely the time since when practice of writing down the Quran began, yet there is little doubt that remaining 18 years of the life of the Prophet, the number of the Muslims as also the copies of the Sacred Text. went on increasing day by day.

The Prophet(pbuh) received the revelations in fragments, it is but natural that the revealed text should have referred to the problems of the day. It may be that one of his companion died; the revelation would have promulgate the law of inheritance; it could not be that penal law regarding theft, murder, or wine drinking for instance, should have been revealed at that moment. The revelation continued during the whole missionary life of Mohammad(pbuh), 13 years in Mecca and 10 years in Madina. A revelation consisted sometimes of a whole chapter, short or long and sometimes of only a few verses.

The nature of the revelations necessitated that the Prophet should repeat them constantly to his companions and revise continually the form which the collections of fragments had to take. It is authoritatively known that the Prophet recited every year in the month of Ramadhan, in the presence of the angel Gabriel, the portion of the Quran till then revealed. and that the last year of life, Gabriel asked him to recite the whole Quran twice. The Prophet concluded thereupon that he was going soon to depart his life. Whatever the spiritual meaning of his angelic aid to the Prophet, his Companions attended these public recitations ( Called “ardah, ” and the celebrated last resentation: the “ardah akhreeah”) and corrected their private copies of the Quran. Thus the Prophet used to revised in the fasting month verses and chapters and put them in their proper sequence. This was necessary, because of the continuity of new revelations.

Sometimes a whole chapter was revealed at a stretch, at others fragments of the same chapter came continually, and this posed no problems. The same was not the case if several chapters began simultaneously to berevealed in fragments (suwar dhawat al-adad of the historians). In this last case one had perforce to note them provisionally and separately on handy material, such as shoulder blades, palm leaves, slate-like stones, pieces of hides etc.; and soon as a chapter was entirely revealed, the secretaries classified these notes (nu-allif al-Quran) under the personal supervision of the Prophet(pbuh) and made a fair copy (CF:Tirmidhi, Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Kathir etc.). It is also known, that the Prophet(pbuh)was in the habit of celebrating an additional service of worship during the month of Ramadhan, every night, sometimes even in congregation, in which he recited the Quran from beginning to the end, the task being completed in the course of month. This service of Tarawih continues to be observed with great devotion to this day.

When the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) breathed his last, a rebellion was afoot in certain parts of the country. In quelling it, several people fell who knew Quran by heart. The caliph Abu-Bakr felt the urgency of codifying the Quran and the task was accomplished in a few months after the death of the Prophet.

During the last years of his life, the Prophet used to employ Zaid ibn Thabit as his chief amanuensis for taking dictation of newly received revelations. Abu-Bakr charged this same person Zaid ibn Thabit with the task of preparing a fair of the entire text in the form of a book. There were then in Madina several hafizes (those who knew the whole Quran by heart) and Zaid was one. He had also attended the ardah-akeerah (the last recitation of Quran by the Prophet). Abu Bakr directed Zaid to obtain 2 written copies of each portion of the text from among those which had been collated with the recitation of the Prophet himself, prior to its inclusion in the corpus. At the direction of caliph Abu-Bakr, the people of Madinah brought to Zaid copies of the various fragments of the Quran which they possessed. The sources declare authoritatively that only 2 verses were such as had a single documentary evidence and that the rest were supported by the production of numerous copies.

The fair copy thus prepared was called Mus’haf (bound leaves). It was kept in his custody by the caliph Abu-Bakr, and after him by his successor Umer. In the meanwhile the study of the Quran was encouraged everywhere in the Muslim domain. Caliph Umer felt the need of sending authentic copies of the text to the provincial centers, to avoid deviations. but it was left to his successor Uthman, to bring the task to a head. One of his lieutenants Hudhaifa having returned from Armenia, reported that he had found conflicting copies of the Quran, and that there were some times even quarrels among the different teachers of the Book on this account. Uthman caused immediately the copy prepared for Abu-Bakr to be entrusted to a commission, presided over by Zaid ibn Thabit, for preparing seven copies, he authorized them to revise the old spelling if necessary. When the task was completed the caliph caused a public reading of the new “edition” before the experts present at the capital, from among the companions of the Prophet, and then sent these copies to different centers of the vast Islamic World, ordering the thenceforward all copies should be based only on the authentic edition. He ordered the destruction of copies which in any way deviated from the text thus officially established.

It is coceivable that the great expansion of the early Muslims persuaded some hypocritical spirits to proclaim their outward conversion to Islam, for material motives, and try to do harm in a clandestine manner. They could have fabricated versions of the Quran with interpolations. The crocodile tears shed at the order of the caliph Uthman, regarding the destruction of unauthenticated copies of the Quran, could have been only by such hypocrites.

It is reported that the Prophet sometimes abrogated certain verses that had been communicated to the people previously, and this was done on the strength of new Divine revelations. There were Companions, who had learnt the first version, but were not aware of the later modifications, either because of death or of residence outside Madinah. These persons might have left copies to their posterity, which although authentic were yet outdated. Again, some Muslims had the habit of asking the Prophet to explain certain terms employed in the holy Text, and noting these explanation on the margin of their copies of Quran, in order not to forget them. The copies made later, on the basis of these annoted texts could sometimes have caused confusion in the matter of the text and the gloss. In spite of the order of the caliph Uthman to destroy the inexact texts, there existed in the 3rd and 4th the Hijra enough matter for compiling voluminous works on the “variants in the Quran”

These have come down to us, and a close study shows that these “variants” were due to glosses or mistakes of deciphering the old Arabic writing which neither possessed vowel signs nor distinguished between letters of close resemblance by means of points, as is done now. Moreover, there existed different dialects in different regions to recite in accordance with their dialect, and even to replace the words which were beyond their ken by synonyms which they knew better. This was just an emergent measure of grace and clemency. By the time of caliph Uthman, public instruction had advanced enough and it was felt desirable that concessions should not be tolerated lest the Divine text be affected and variants of reading take root.

The copies of Quran sent by Uthman to provincial centers gradually disappeared, in the succeeding centuries, one of them is at present in the Topkapi museum of Istanbul, another incomplete is now in Taskent. The czarist Russia had published it latter with a facsimile reproduction, and we see that there is complete identity between these copies and the text otherwise in use. The same is true for other copies of Quran, both complete and fragmentary, dating from the first century of the Hijra on wards.

The habit of learning by heart the text of the entire Quran dates from the time of the Prophet himself. The caliphs and other heads of Muslim States have always encouraged this habit. A happy coincidence has further reinforced the integrity of the text. In fact from the very beginning, Muslims have been accustomed to read a work in the presence of its author or one of his authorized pupils, and obtain permission of further transmission of the text established and corrected at the time of study and collation. Those who recited the Quran by heart or simply read the written text, also acted in the same manner. The habit has continued down to our day, with this remarkable feature that every master indicates in detail in the certificate given by him not only the fact rendering of his pupil was correct but also that it was in conformity with that which this master had learned from his own master, and that this last had affirmed that he in turn had learnt it from his master, the chain mounting up to the Prophet. The number of hafizes is now counted in the world by hundreds of thousands, and millions of copies of the text are found in all parts of the globe. And what deserves to be noted is that there is absolutely no difference between the memories of the hafizes and the texts employed.

The original of the Quran was in Arabic, and the same text is still in use. The translation had been made in all important languages of the world, more or less serviceable to those who do not know Arabic. It is to be remembered that it is in the original Arabic language that the text has come to us.

A text in the original language, a codification under the auspices of the Prophet himself, a continued preservation by the simultaneous double control of memory and writing in addition to the study under qualified teachers, and this by a large numbers of individuals in every generation, and the absence of any variants in the text - these are some remarkable features of the Quran, the Holy book of the Muslims.