Compilation of the Holy Quran into a text

· Ahmadiyyat: True Islam, Quran, Revelation
Authors

The Holy Quran

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

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.
[5] http://books.google.com/books?id=5QMMAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:%22Sir+William+Muir%22#v=onepage&q=&f=false
[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.
[9]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bgpjxfn8nSw
[10] http://www.unesco.org/webworld/nominations/en/uzbekistan/reading.htm
[11] Laura Veccia Vaglieri. An Interpretation of Islam. First published in 1957. Goodward books, 2004. Page 44.

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