Compilation of the Holy Quran into a text

· Ahmadiyyat: True Islam
Authors

 This is a short article to introduce the subject to fellow Christians. The Holy Quran says about them:

And thou shalt assuredly find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ to be the nearest of them in love to the believers. That is because amongst them are savants and monks and because they are not proud.  (Al Quran 5:83)

The article was originally published in the Muslim Sunrise:

Prof. Theodor Nöldeke, the well known Orientalist writes, “Since the use of the Koran in public worship, in schools and otherwise, is much more extensive than, for example, the reading of the Bible in most Christian countries, it has been truly described as the most widely-read book in existence.  This circumstance alone is sufficient to give it an urgent claim on our attention.”[1] As non-Muslims begin to learn about the Holy Quran one of the immediate issues is how it was compiled and came about.  Reginald Bosworth Smith gave four lectures in 1874 before the Royal Institution of Great Britain, which took on a book form titled Mohammed and Mohammedanism. He wrote in this book, “In the Koran we have, beyond all doubt, the exact words of Mohammed without subtraction and without addition.  We see with our own eyes birth and adolescence of a religion.”[2] Sir William Muir agrees with this position.  In 1885 he was elected the Principal of Edinburgh University and held the post till 1903.  He writes, “There is otherwise every security, internal and external, that we possess a text the same as that which Mahomet himself gave forth and used.

…..

The conclusion, which we may now with confidence draw, is that the editions of Abu Bakr and of Othman were not only faithful, but, so far as the materials went, complete; and that whatever omissions there may have been, were not on the part of the compilers intentional.  …  We may upon the strongest presumption affirm that every verse in the Coran is the genuine and unaltered composition of Mahomet himself, and conclude with at least a close approximation to the verdict of Von Hammer: That we hold the Coran to be as surely Mahomet’s word as the Muslims hold it to be word of God.”[3]  Little did both of these distinguished gentlemen know that in asserting the Holy Quran to be the exact words of Muhammed, while denying it to be Divine word, they were becoming an important witness to it being actually word of God? How come? The Holy Quran had predicted very early in the ministry of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, “Surely, We Ourself have sent down this Exhortation, and we will, most surely, safeguard it.” (Al Quran 15:10).  The chapter of the Quran with this promise was revealed at Mecca (Noldeke) when the life of the Holy Prophet and his followers was extremely precarious and the enemy could easily crush the new Faith. It was then that disbelievers were challenged to do their worst to destroy it and were warned that God would frustrate all their designs because He Himself was the Guardian of the religion and its scripture the Quran. The challenge was open and unequivocal and the enemy strong and ruthless, and yet the Quran remained safe against corruption and interpolation and has continued to enjoy perfect security. This distinction of the Quran is not shared by any other revealed Book.  Especially in the case of the Bible, the new research has established beyond doubt that it is nowhere close to the Holy Quran in this distinction.  Some of this information is covered by two documentaries Banned from the Bible I and Banned from Bible II, by the History channel that can be seen on Youtube.com. 

The Quran was written by the scribes during the life time of the Prophet Muhammad.  It was collected in a book form in the time of his first Caliph Abu Bakr and the master copy was stored with the Prophet’s widow Haphsa, who was daughter of the second Caliph Omar.  John Davenport has given a short summary version of this process:

“While Mohammed lived, the Koran was kept in loose sheets only. His successor, Abu-Bekr, first collected them into a single volume, not only from the palm leaves, skins, and shoulder-bones of mutton whereon they had been written, but also from the mouths of those who had committed them to memory; and, when the transcript was completed, the keeping of it was entrusted to Haphsa, the daughter of Omar, one of the widows of Mohammed, in order for its being consulted as an original. As, however, a considerable degree of diversity was found to exist between the several copies already dispersed throughout the provinces, Othman, the successor of Abu-Bekr, in the thirtieth year of the Hegira, procured a great number of them to be taken from that of Haphsa, suppressing, at the same time, all the others not conformable to the original.”[4]

Sir William Muir testifies to the compilation and preservation of the Holy Quran in a detailed appendix to his biography of the Prophet Muhammad.  In 1878 edition of his book the Life of Mahomet from original sources there is a very detailed description of how the text of the Holy Quran was preserved early in its history.  It is a must read for every student of Islam, it can be downloaded from the book section of Google.com.[5]  Coming from the mouth of a non-Muslim who wrote this after an extensive study of the Hadith and the early biographers of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, it becomes a very assuring research that the Holy Quran has indeed been preserved for all these centuries.  I am not going to reproduce his detailed description here.  But here I reproduce a brief and a Reader’s Digest version of his testimony from one of his other books:

“There is reason to conjecture that the greater portion, at least the most important chapters, were laid up in the habitation of one of the Prophet’s wives (for he had no separate room or dwelling-place of his own), or left in the custody of the scribes or secretaries who had first recorded them. They were, moreover, trea­sured up with pious reverence in the memories of the people; and transcripts of the several Suras or frag­ments, especially of those most frequently in use for meritorious repetition, or for public and private devotion, were even before the Flight in the hands of many persons, and so preserved with religious and even superstitious care. As the Faith extended, teachers were sent forth to the various tribes through­out Arabia to instruct the new converts in the requirements of Islam; and these carried with them, either in a recorded form or indelibly imprinted on the mind (for the Arab memory was possessed of a marvellous tenacity), the leading portions of the Revelation.

Such was the state of things at the Prophet’s death, and so it continued for about a year. After the battle of Yemama, in which many of the reciters of the Coran were slain, the risk of leaving the Revelation on this precarious footing presented itself forcibly to the mind of Omar. ‘I fear,’ he said, addressing the Caliph Abu Bekr, ‘that siaughter may again wax hot among the reciters of the Coran in other fields of battle, and that much may be lost therefrom. Now, therefore, my advice is that thou shouldest give speedy orders for collecting the same together.’ Abu Bekr recog­nizing the wisdom of this counsel, appointed Zeid, the chief amanuensis of the Prophet, to the task; and so Zeid sought out the various Suras and fragments of the Coran from every quarter, and gathered them together from palm-leaves and tablets of white stone, and from the breasts of men. The manuscript of the Coran, as thus compiled, was committed to the keeping of Haphsa, one of the Prophet’s widows, and continued to be the standard text during the ten years of Omar’s Caliphate.

But by degrees variety crept into the many transcripts from this compilation, and the Caliph Othman was persuaded to apply a trenchant remedy. Zeid was appointed to the recension of his former work; and as the differences were mainly of dialect and ex­pression, a syndicate was nominated of three Coreish authorities to act as final judges in the matter. The various readings were searched out from all the provinces of the Empire, and the new collection was assimilated to the pure Meccan dialect in which Ma­homet had given utterance to his inspiration. Tran­scripts were then multiplied, and forwarded to the chief cities as standards for reference. All previous copies were called in, and committed to the flames. The recension of Zeid has been handed down unaltered. So carefully has it been followed, that there is but one and the same Coran in use throughout the vast bounds of the Mahometan world.  Various readings are almost unknown. The few limitations are almost entirely con­fined to the vowel forms and the diacritical points, which, having been invented at a later period, formed no part of the original or of Zeid’s recension.

There is every security that the work of Zeid was executed faithfully and, indeed, the acceptance of Coran by Ali and his party, the antagonists of the unfortunate Othman, is the surest guarantee of its genuineness.”[6]

We do not agree with his political analysis that ‘Ali and his party, the antagonists of the unfortunate Othman,’ but we are in complete agreement that there was a consensus about the security and the preservation of the text of the Holy Quran among the early Muslims after the death of the Prophet Muhammad and that consensus has continued.  You can pick up the Quran in any part of the world and from any time in history and you will find the same 114 chapters in the exact same order with the exact same verses. 

Professor Nicholson, says in his Literary History of the Arabs, “the Koran is an exceedingly human document, reflecting every phase of Muhammad’s personality and standing in close relation to the outward events of his life, so that here we have materials of unique and incontestable authority for tracing the origin and early development of Islam—such materials as do not exist in the case of Buddhism or Christianity or any other ancient religion.”[7]

Prof. Theodor Nöldeke writes, “Slight clerical errors there may have been, but the Quran of Othman contains none but genuine elements, though sometimes in very strange order. Efforts of European scholars to prove the existence of later interpolations in the Koran have failed.[8]

It has become an inconvenient truth for the Christian apologists that the fact that the Bible is not the literal word of God has become an open secret in this information age.  Bart D Ehrman is Distinguished Professor of Religious studies in University of North Carolina and author of twenty different books. His most recent book is Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). He is a specialist in the New Testament.  He has shown scores of internal contradictions in the Bible.  Ehrman’s 45 minute interview about his book can be watched on Youtube.[9] If the Holy Quran had not been from God and had not been preserved, it would have had contradictions and interpolations in a similar fashion.  But the history is a witness that it is not so.  The Holy Quran says, “Will they not, then, meditate upon the Qur’an? Had it been from anyone other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much disagreement.” [Al Quran 4:83]

This manuscript, held by the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan, is the earliest existent written version of the Quran. It is the Mushaf of Othman. Image courtesy of Memory of the World Register, UNESCO.[10]

Professor Laura Vaglieri, who served as professor of Arabic and Islamic Culture at the Naples Eastern University, writes:

“We have still another proof of the divine origin of the Quran in the fact that its text has remained pure and unaltered through the centuries from the day of its delivery until today, and will remain so, God willing, as long as the universe continues to exist. Read over and over again all through the Muslim world, this work does not induce in the believer any sense of weariness. On the contrary, through repeated reading it endears itself more and more each day. It arouses a deep sense of reverence and awe in one who reads or hears it. It can be readily learned by heart, so that today, in spite of the low ebb of faith, thousands of people can repeat it by heart. In Egypt alone there are more huffaz than there are people in all Europe who can recite the, Gospels by heart.”[11]

The Bible had a temporary role in human history.  If it had been meant for all times to come the Omniscient and the Omnipotent God, who revealed it would have also ensured its preservation.  He did exactly that in the case of the Holy Quran.  For further details go to:

References:


[1] Encyclopedia Britannica Edition 1911.  Under heading ‘Koran’ page 898.

[2] Reginald Bosworth Smith, Mohammed and Mohammedanism, 1889 edition.  Page 18.

[3] Sir William Muir.  Life of Mahomet.  1878.  Pages 561-563.

[4] John Davenport.  An apology for Mohammed and the Koran.  1869.  Pages 67.  The book is available on Archive.org.

[6] Sir William Muir.  The Coran: Its Composition and Teaching and the Testimony it Bears to the Holy Scriptures. The Macmillan Company, 1920.  Pages 37-40.

[7] Reynold Alleyne Nicholson. A literary history of the Arabs.  Charles Scribner’s sons, 1907.Page 143.

[8] Encyclopedia Britannica Edition 1911.  Under heading ‘Koran’ page 905.

[11] Laura Veccia Vaglieri.   An Interpretation of Islam.  First published in 1957.  Goodward books, 2004.  Page 44.

8 Comments

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  1. Zia H. Shah

    Ahadith about the compilation of the Holy Quran
    Since the individual words of the Qur’ān present a grand total of 77,934 words, the average number of words per verse equal twelve, which evidently results in an average revelation of approximately nine words per day. Based on these calculations it is obvious that the Holy Qur’ān was revealed very slowly and gradually. Although it is true that there were temporary respites in the revelation of the Holy Qur’ān, there were also certain days when many verses were revealed to the Holy Prophet all at once. Nonetheless, the Holy Qur’ān was never revealed in such magnitude as might seem arduous to preserve it by writing or memorize it continually.

    It was the practice of the Holy Prophet that as verses of the Holy Qur’ān were revealed to him, he would dictate them to writing, and under divine knowledge, organize the sequential order of these verses as well. Many Aḥādīth have been narrated in this regard and the following Ḥadīth can be
    presented as an example:

    عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ قَالَ عُثْمَانُ ابْنُ عَفَّانَ رَضِیَ اللّٰهُ عَنْهُمَا كَانَ رَسُوْلُ اللّٰهِ صَلَّی اللّٰهُ
    عَلَیْهِ وَسَلَّمَ اِذَا نَزَلَ عَلَیْهِ شَیْءٌ دَعَا بَعْضَ مَنْ كَانَ یَكْتُبُ فَیَقُوْلُ ضَعُوْا ھٰؤُلَآءِ الْاٰیَاتِ
    فِی سُوْرَةِ الَّتِی یَذْكُرُ فِیْھَا كَذَا وكَذَا فَاِذَا نَزَلَتْ عَلَیْهِ الْاٰیَةُ فَیَقُوْلُ ضَعُوْا ھٰذِہ الْاٰیَةَ فِیْ
    السُّوْرَةِ الَّتِیْ یَذْكُرُ فِیْھَا كَذَا وَكَذَا

    Ḥaḍrat Ibni ‘Abbās who was the paternal cousin of the Holy Prophet narrates that Ḥaḍrat ‘Uthmān bin ‘Affān (who served as a scribe in the time of the Holy Prophet would often state that “When several verses were revealed to the Holy Prophet all at once, the Holy Prophet would summon one of his scribes and instruct that these verses should be written in a certain chapter at the following place. If only one verse was revealed, the Holy Prophet would, in the same manner, summon one of his scribes and particularly instruct that this verse be written in the following place.”

    Mishkātul-Maṣābīḥ, Kitābu Faḍā’ilil-Qur’ān, Bābu Ikhtilāfil-Qirā’āti wa Jam‘il-Qur’ān, Al-Faṣluth-
    Thālith, Ḥadīth No. 2222, Dārul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition (2003)

    http://www.alislam.org/holyprophet/Seal-of-Prophets-Vol-1.pdf

  2. Zia H. Shah

    Some additional quotes
    Nöldeke, a famous German-Christian orientalist of the past is accepted as an expert in his field. With regards to the Holy Qur’ān he states:

    “The Qur’ān present today is exactly the same as in the time of the companions of the Prophet.”
    “All efforts of European scholars to prove the existence of later interpolation in the Koran have failed”

    A renowned Christian-British orientalist by the name of Professor Reynold A. Nicholson writes in his English work titled ‘Literary History of the Arabs’:

    “The Koran is an exceedingly human document, reflecting every phase of Muḥammad’s personality and standing in close relation to the ontward events of his life, so that here we have materials of unique and incontestable authority for tracing the origin and early development of Islām – such materials as do not
    exist in the case of Buddhism or Christianity or any other ancient religion.”

    http://www.alislam.org/holyprophet/Seal-of-Prophets-Vol-1.pdf

  3. Zia H. Shah

    Contrasting with the Christian, Jewish and the Buddhist text
    The accuracy of the compilation of the Holy Quran is cleary highlighted and better understood when we contrast it with the Christian, Jewish and the Buddhist text. Here let me cover the Buddhist text and I have several knols dedicated to the Bible:

    “For four hundred years during and after the Buddha’s life¬time, his teachings were transmitted only orally. After that, monks in the Tamrashatiya School (‘those who wear copper-colored robes’) in Sri Lanka, a derivative of the Vibhajyavada School, began to think about writing the Buddha’s discourses on palm leaves, and it took another hundred years to begin. By that time, it is said that there was only one monk who had memorized the whole canon and that he was somewhat arro¬gant. The other monks had to persuade him to recite the discourses so they could write them down. When we hear this, we feel a little uneasy knowing that an arrogant monk may not have been the best vehicle to transmit the teachings of the Buddha.

    By the time the Buddha’s discourses were written down in Pali in Sri Lanka, there were eighteen or twenty schools, and each had its own recension of the Buddha’s teachings. These schools did not tear the teachings of the Buddha apart but were threads of a single garment. Two of these recensions exist today: the Tamrashatiya and Sarvastivada canons. Recorded at about the same time, the former was written down in Pali and the latter in Sanskrit and Prakrit. The sutras that were written down in Pali in Sri Lanka are known as the Southern transmission, or ‘Teachings of the Elders’ (Theravada). The Sarvastivada texts, known as the NortherI} transmission, exist only in fragmented form. Fortunately, they, were translated into Chinese and Tibetan, and many of these translations are still available. We have to remember that the Buddha did not speak Pali, Sanskrit, or Prakrit. He spoke a local dialect called Magadhi ot Ardhamagadhi, and there is no record of the Buddha’s words in his own language.”

    Thich Naht Hanh. The Heart of Buddh’s Teaching. Broadway Books, 1999. Pages 13 andd 15-16.

  4. Zia H. Shah

    The Uthman’s Quran preserved in Cairo
    The Cairo Qur’an.

    After Uthman sent it to Egypt it remained in the possession of each successive Egyptian ruler until some 500 years ago when it was moved to the Amr Ibn al-As Mosque in Old Cairo, then to the Salah Tala’i Mosque and finally to al-Hussein Mosque where it has been ever since. Dr. Souad Maher, the former dean of Cairo University archeology department, renowned for being the first female to attain a doctorate in Islamic history in the Arab world, has long been involved in the renovations of the relics in the mosque and during the 1960s she verified the authenticity of the text, using the carbon-testing method to determine that it dated back to the time of the Prophet.

    http://www.ruqaiyyah.karoo.net/articles/quran.htm

    (Edited from an extract from Sr. Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood’s book ‘Islam’ – Hodder and Stoughton, new edition 2006. One of the best sellers in the well-known Teach Yourself series. (ISBN: 0340 928 131)

    The picture of the Uthman’s Quran is in the Google-knol above with three men standing around it.

  5. Zia H. Shah

    My take on Prof. Bart Ehrman
    Prof. Bart Ehrman is an agnostic scholar of the New Testament. If the agnostic and the religious scholars of the Bible, hold honest discussions about the Bible, the Holy Quran wins! What does this mean? If we preserve the best and accurate in the Bible and Christianity what survives is Islam!

    Try me, and read the different books of Prof. Bart Ehrman and listen to his interviews and debates available on the Youtube. And, of course, if you are not a Muslim and do not know about the Holy Quran, you have to learn about it from the Muslim sources, in addition to the usual Christian experts on Islam. Here is a Google Knol for starters:

    http://knol.google.com/k/zia-shah/the-holy-quran-as-the-miracle-of-the/1qhnnhcumbuyp/55#

    My Christian friends have to remember that they have to spend enough hours in learning the Holy Quran to overcome their decades of pre-conceived biases and centuries of Islamophobic propaganda. And remember, according to Confucius, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

  6. Zia H. Shah

    A detailed account in the Appendix of biography of the Prophet Muhammad by Sir William Muir
    The 1878 edition of Life of Mahomet has a detailed appendix that gives a comprehensive account of compilation of the Holy Quran:

    http://books.google.com/books?printsec=frontcover&dq=william+muir+life+of+mahomet&ei=wzRxTK2JCYH98Ab94aH5DA&ct=book-preview-link&pg=PP7&id=5QMMAAAAIAAJ#v=onepage&q&f=false

    To read the account by Muir changed into contemporary English go to:

    http://www.alislam.org/quran/Quran-and-non-Muslims-20080128MN.pdf

    Another detailed account by Muir is in his book, The Coran Koran (AlCoran) – its composition and teaching and the testimony it bears to the Holy Scriptures by Muir:

    http://www.archive.org/details/TheCoranKoranalcoran-ItsCompositionAndTeachingAndTheTestimonyIt

  7. Zia H. Shah

    Here is a quote from John Barrow

    He is critical of the Holy Scripture on several counts but its accuracy as given to the world by the Holy Prophet Muhammad is not one of them:

    Mohammed’s chief contribution to the world is the Koran, which alone is sufficient to prove his intellectual and moral greatness. Unlike the Bible, it is the product of one mind. The Holy Scripture came to us from many inspire men in many ages, reflecting all forms of human life; but the Koran is the work of one man and reflects his moods and passions, and policies at different epochs of his career. We can imagine what a different book the Christian Scriptures would be had they been composed only by Jeremiah or Ezekiel, Peter or James. Mohammed’s maxims were diligently recorded by his disciples on bones or palm-leaves, and were thrown into a chest which was kept by one of his wives. Two years after his death, these relics were collected and published by Abu Bekr. Such is the origin of the Koran, a book which, to many Western mind, appears “an endless incoherent rhapsody of fable, legend and declamation,” but which shows undoubtedly frequent moral elevation and great spiritual sublimity; a book which the faithful adore, which they believe possesses a magical charm and effect, curing diseases when worn as an amulet; a book too sacred to be translated, and which the Moslems ignorantly deems superior to all other sacred writings.

    This volume contains all the theology of Islām and also its civil and criminal jurisprudence. From it we learn that God has made six revelations to man, each better than the former, and that the revelation to Mohammed is the final disclosure of God’s will. He is the prophet like unto Moses who was promised; he is the Holy Ghost, the Comforter; he is the mouthpiece of God, and hence the words of the Koran are faultlessly perfect. Containing many noble truths and sentiments, this book makes great appeal to conscience; it affirms the intimate communion of man and God: it commends charity, truth, and patience and the return of good for evil; it emboldens the penitent to cry out in faith to his Creator; it enjoins humility and tenderness. From it might be gathered, by the careful omission of unworthy portions, a noble system of ethics, not complete but still exalted. The moral code of Mohammedanism requires honesty, modesty, benevolence, fraternity among Moslems; it forbids profanity, gambling, false oaths and the use of intoxicating liquors. It expressly sanctions polygamy in the fourth and twenty-third suras, and, while it gives to women a position of inferiority, there is no truth whatever in the statement that, according to the Koran, women have no souls, no rights and no hopes of immortality.” (p-47-48)

    http://www.themuslimtimes.org/2011/08/book-review/review-on-the-christian-conquest-of-asia-by-john-henry-barrows-d-d

    I believe that if one pools criticism of different Orientalist on a given issue in Islam, they will themselves cancel out each other. Invariably their individual criticism is ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

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