HISTORY OF THE PRESERVATION OF THE QUR'AN
What is The Qur'an?
The Qur’an is the sacred book of the Muslims, revealed by the creator Allah سبحانه و تعالىto the last and final Prophet i.e., Muhammad ﷺduring his life in Makkah and Madinah. The Qur’an is the final book sent for the entire Mankind, contains the original text of Allah’s revelation to Muhammad ﷺ
Qur’an is the book which means literally to read or the recitation or something that is continuously recited. Qur’an is the only book which has maximum number of memorizers. Qur’an is a book which contains the knowledge of all required subjects in a nutshell or keywords like physics, history, biology, geology, history, inheritance laws etc. It contains all the information which is necessary for the success in both the worlds. It is structured in such a way that can be understood in the context. It also joins one incident with other, simple information to a detailed one.
The Qur’an was revealed over 1400 years ago to Muhammad ﷺin the early 7th century CE. It was revealed over a period of 23 years, with the first revelation being sent down when Muhammad ﷺ was 40 years old. The first revelation came to him when he was in a cave on mount Hira, situated east of the holy city of Makkah.
After the revelation Muhammad ﷺbegan to spread the message of the Qur’an to the people around him. Whenever he used to receive a revelation, he used to first memorise it, as was taught by angel Jibreel. After memorizing, he used to recite it in a company of his companions who then memorized it under the supervision of Muhammad ﷺ. Muhammad ﷺ would then order them to write it down on scribes (shoulder blade bones, leaves, slate etc - whatever was available at the time) and he used to personally verify them. As the prophet didn't know how to read and write, the companions would first write it down and then read aloud what they had written. Muhammad ﷺ would point out any mistakes and correct them.
Memory and oral transmission were the main methods of storing and passing on information in those days, which meant that these skills were exercised and strengthened to a degree that is almost unknown today. The Qur'an was required to be recited regularly as an act of worship, especially during the five daily prayers (salah). Through these means, many repeatedly heard passages from the Qur’an were recited and memorized frequently. The Qur’an was revealed gradually over 23 years. As a result; the amount needed to be memorized per revelation was manageable and easy to remember.
Each Ramadan, Muhammad ﷺwould repeat after the angel Jibreel reciting the entire Qur’an in its exact order as far as it had been revealed, while in the presence of a number of his Companions, Sahih Al Bhukari Vol 1:5
Muhammad ﷺencouraged his companions to learn and teach the Qur’an. Some of the companions who memorized the Qur’an were: 'Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Ibn Masud, Abu Huraira, Abdullah bin Abbas, Abdullah bin Amr bin al-As, Aisha, Hafsa, and Umm Salma (May Allah be pleased with them All).
Muhammad ﷺ allowed several companions to have their own manuscript in addition to memorizing the Qur'an ,the most famous of these people who are said to have taught many others .Uthman, Ali, Ubbay ibn Ka'b, Zayd ibn Thabit, 'Abd Allah ibn Masud, Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, Salim(the client of Abu Hudayfah), and Mu'adh ibn Jabal (May Allah be pleased with them All).
Umar Ibn Al-Khattab رضي الله عنهurged Abu Bakr رضي الله عنهto preserve and compile the Qur’an. Consequently, Abu Bakr رضي الله عنهordered the collection of the scattered pieces of the Qur'an into one copy. This was prompted after the battle of Yamamah, where heavy casualties were suffered among the orators who had memorized the Qur’an. During this battle against Musaylima the liar, about 70 Muslims who had memorized the Qur'an were killed.
Abu Bakr رضي الله عنهentrusted Zayed Ibn Thabit رضي الله عنهwith the task of collecting the Qur’an, Sahih Al Bukhari Vol 6:201. Zayed رضي الله عنهhad been present during the last recitation of the Qur’an by Muhammad ﷺto Angel Jibraeel (Gabriel).
Zayed رضي الله عنه, with the help of the companions who memorized and wrote ayaah of the Qur’an, accomplished the task and handed Abu Bakr رضي الله عنهthe first authenticated copy of the Qur’an. The copy was kept in the residence of Hafsah رضي الله عنه daughter of Umar رضي الله عنهand wife ofMuhammad ﷺ, Sahih Al Bhukari Vol 6: 201
By the time of the caliphate of Usman ibn Affan رضي الله عنه, there was a perceived need for the compilation of the Qur'an. The Caliphate had grown considerably; bringing into Islam's fold many new reverts from various cultures with varying degrees of isolation. These reverts spoke a variety of languages but were not well learned in Arabic and so a complete written text of the Qur'an had to be compiled. Another reason for compiling the Qur'an was that many of the Muslims who had memorized portions of the Qur'an were dying, especially in battle.
So 'Uthman رضي الله عنهsent a message to Hafsa رضي الله عنهsaying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa رضي الله عنهsent it to 'Uthman رضي الله عنه. 'Uthman رضي الله عنهthen ordered Zaid bin Thabit رضي الله عنه, 'Abdullah bin AzZubair رضي الله عنه, Said bin Al- As and 'AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham رضي الله عنهto rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. The Qur'an was revealed in their tongue ie, in the dialect of Quraish, " They did so, and when they had written many copies, 'Uthman رضي الله عنهreturned the original manuscripts to Hafsa رضي الله عنه 'Uthman رضي الله عنهsent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscriptsor wholecopies, be burnt,Sahih Bhukari Vol 6: 510.
So on the order of Usman رضي الله عنهthe Qur’an for the first time came in the form of a book (Mushafs), Sahih Al Bhukari Vol 6:507. And perfect copies of the Qur’an were made and it was verified with the authenticated copy kept with Hafsa رضي الله عنه. And Copies were sent to various places in the Muslim world like Medina in Saudi Arabia, Syria,Yemen, Cairo in Egypt, Istanbul in Turkey and Tashkent etc.
The story of how the Qur'an came to be preserved is drawn entirely from authentic Ahadith. Early Muslim scholars have developed some of the most rigorous criteria to scrutinize such reports for authenticity. The majority of what we know of the life of Muhammad ﷺand his Companions are from mutawaatirreports (reported by many different reliable narrators, who all independently verify the same account). This continuing and dynamic science (now over thirteen centuries old) has produced highly accurate reports of Muslim history. All the geographically scattered scholars of the first four centuries of Ahadith collection, who belonged to varied and competing schools of thought, had the same historical facts about the preservation of the Qur'an when compared.
Research carried out to compare the various ancient Qur’anic texts reveal no differences between them.
The institute for Koranforschung, in the University of Munich (Germany) collected over 42,000 complete or incomplete ancient copies of the Qur'an. After around fifty years of research, they reported that there was no variance between the various copies.
The fact that every modern Qur'an can be checked against the ancient remaining copies of the Qur'ans sent out by Uthman رضي الله عنهand found to be exactly the same, is evidence in itself. The fact that every Qur'an, both written and memorized, are all exactly the same, testifies to the preservation of the Qur'an from the initial revelation up to modern day. This consistency also shows that any attempt to alter the Qur’anic text has failed.
Due to the sheer number of Qur'ans it is not possible to change them all without invading every Muslim home and Masjid in the world, and that's just for the written Qur'ans. It would be exponentially more difficult to change the Qur'ans people have committed to memory.
Even if somebody managed to change one or a few of the written Qur'ans and produced their own, altered version, it would quickly be discovered as soon as it is read either by a Muslim who knows the Qur'an by heart, or read in a gathering and the person reading it notices that it does not correspond with what is being read out loud. Even a Muslim, who does not know it by heart and doesn't read it in a gathering, will most likely notice the inconsistency in the flow of the language.