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Misconceptions about Islam

Updated on October 8, 2016

Quran compilation

The first complete copy of the Qur'an was collated during the reign of Abu Bakr, the first successor of the Prophet (peace be upon him). It is well known that Abu Bakr ruled for only two years and four months, then died and was succeeded by Umar. So, it was during this short period after the Prophet that the Qur'an was physically collated in a complete copy. The process was most accurate. Acting on Umar's advice, Abu Bakr felt that it was beneficial for the Muslim community that a reference copy of the Qur'an should be put together, so that it could be used to check the accuracy of any text presumed to be part of the Qur'an.

Abu Bakr assigned the task to Zaid ibn Thabit, a young companion of the Prophet who had learned the Qur'an in full by heart. Abu Bakr instructed all people who had any surah, passage or verse of the Qur'an, written down to bring it over. Two witnesses to the accuracy of the writing were required. When Zaid completed his task, which he described as 'heavier than moving Mount Uhud', he gave the complete copy to Abu Bakr and Umar, who both checked it anew. It was then given to Hafsah, the Prophet's wife, for safekeeping. The main reason advanced for this first task was that the new Muslim state had to fight several battles in its early days, when a number of the Prophet's companions who knew the Qur'an by heart died. Should the task be delayed, the accuracy of the text could not be guaranteed.

A second and more thorough collection of the Qur'an was undertaken during the reign of the third Caliph, Uthman, who started his rule 12 years after the Prophet had passed away. Uthman's reign lasted for 15 years. In the early years of his reign, Hudhayfah ibn Al-Yaman, a companion of the Prophet who was the commander of a Muslim army in some battles in Iraq, returned to Madinah, the capital of the Muslim state and met the Caliph. He explained to him that confusion threatened to creep into the way people learned the Qur'an. This was due to the fact that, like all languages, Arabic was pronounced differently by people in different areas. This produced different pronunciations of vowels as well as a different manner of the articulation of some sounds and words. These variants were accepted by the Prophet, and no one complained about them, because the text itself was the same. However, when people outside Arabia became Muslims, and they learned the Qur'an from the Prophet's companions, these variant pronunciations began to have a greater effect. Some people started to say that their own way of reading is better, or more eloquent, or closer to the Prophet's way of reading, than that of other people. Hudhayfah said to Uthman: "Something needs to be done urgently before people quarrel over God's book." Uthman consulted the Prophet's companions in Madinah, and they all concluded that reference copies of the Qur'an should be made available in the main population centers of the Muslim state.

This started a second collation of the Qur'an. The task was again commissioned to Zaid ibn Thabit, but he was now the head of a committee of four companions of the Prophet who were well versed in the Qur'an. Yet they did not rely on their own memories. They required people to bring them written passages of the Qur'an, on whatever material they were written. The collection was thus started. However, they only accepted a written text when the owner had two witnesses to testify that they were present when the Prophet dictated that text. Thus, we had the owner of the written material who knew the piece he had by heart. The written text was confirmed to be accurate and dictated by the Prophet by two witnesses. Then the four members of the committee checked it against their own memorization. Uthman himself supervised the task. Should there be any question of accuracy, there were many companions of the Prophet in Madinah who knew the Qur'an by heart and whose services were always ready. When the task of collation was complete, several copies were made of the full text. The last step was to check these against the first copy, collated under Abu Bakr's supervision and kept by Hafsah. When this was done and the accuracy of all copies confirmed, one copy was sent to each main city in the Muslim state. It served as the reference copy from which more copies were made.

If you look carefully at the whole enterprise, you cannot conceive of a more thorough method or a product of greater accuracy.

It was done by the people whose sincerity, diligence and dedication to the task in hand could not be surpassed. Hence, the Qur'an was preserved in the most accurate way known in human history.


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