How the Quran was compiled

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan I The Pioneer | Dec. 7, 1997 | Page 5

The Quran, according to Muslim belief, is a book of revelations from God. Today, it exists in the form of a book, but all the 114 chapters of the Quran were not revealed at one time. They were sent bit by bit, according to circumstances, over a period of 23 years.

The Quran is pivotal to all Muslim activities. Muslims recite the Quran daily, and read from it in their prayers five times a day. Over and above this, they read it out to others for missionary purposes. In this way, the Quran has remained at the center of Muslims’ activities since the beginning.

In ancient times information used to be preserved in human memory. The oral tradition in those days functioned as libraries do today. This system made it possible for the revelations of the Quran to be preserved in the memory of a large number of devotees. And to this day, and despite printing presses, the institution of memorizing the Quran is still alive all over the Muslim world.

But the message of the Quran was not transmitted purely by oral tradition even during the lifetime of the Prophet. Among his companions were a select group of about half a dozen katib-e-wahy — transcribers of the revelations. A few of these scribes were always present and whenever any part of the Quran was revealed, the Prophet would recite it to them. Thereupon, at the exact moment of revelation, they would not only commit it to memory, but would write it down on any available material, such as paper, bones, leather or skin. In former times, when the accepted way of disseminating the subject matter of a book was to memorise it and then recite it, it was quite exceptional that the Quran should have been both memorized and preserved in writing.

The second exceptional point concerns the arrangement of the verses and chapters of the Quran. When the Quran was revealed in parts, at different times according to the demand of circumstances, how did it come to be arranged in its present form? We find the answer in books of hadith. It has been proved from authentic traditions that the angel Gabriel, who conveyed the revelations of God to the Prophet, himself arranged these verses. Each year during the month of Ramzan, the angel Gabriel would come to the Prophet and recited before him all the Quranic verses revealed up till that time. And after listening to the angel, the Prophet would repeat the verses in the order in which he had heard them. This dual process has been termed al-Irza, ‘mutual presentation’ in the books of hadith.
In the last year of the Prophet’s life, when the revelations were complete, Gabriel came to the Prophet and recited the entire Quran in the existing order twice, and the Prophet also recited to Gabriel the entire Quran twice. This final presentation is called al-Arz al-Akhirah in the hadith. (Fathul Bari, p. 659-663).

And in this way the Quran came to be in the form we are familiar with today, preserved in memories of tens of thousands of the Prophet’s companions even during his lifetime.
When the Prophet died in 632 AD, at the age of 63, the Quran existed in two forms: in the memory of these companions, who had learned it by rote in what is now its present order; two, in writing — on pieces of paper and other materials, preserved by the companions. What must be noted here is that the order existed in memory, not in writing, though all the parts existed at that time in written form.

After the death of the Prophet, Abu Bakr Siddiq was appointed the first Caliph, and it was during his caliphate that the compilation of Quran was carried out. Zaid ibn Thabit, the Prophet’s foremost scribe and an authority on the Quran, was entrusted with this task. His work was more of collection than of compilation — the scattered bits and pieces of the Quran put together, not that they could be bound in one volume, but that they could be used to crosscheck countless memories in oral tradition. Once this correspondence between the oral and written forms had been established beyond any reasonable doubt, Zaid proceeded to put the verses of the Quran down on paper in their correct order. The volume he produced was then handed over to the Caliph, and this remained in the custody of the Prophet’s wife, Hafsa.

The third Caliph, Osman, arranged for several copies of this text to be sent to all the states and placed in central mosques where the people could prepare further copies. In this way the message of the Quran spread further and further, both through oral tradition and hand-written copies, until the age of the press dawned. Many printing presses were established in the Muslim world, where the beautiful calligraphy of the scriptures was reproduced after its content had been certified by memorisers of the Quran. Once again with the help of memorized versions and written texts, correct, authentic copies were prepared; and with the publication of these copies on a large scale, the Quran spread all over the world. Any copy of the Quran found in any part of the world at any time will be exactly the same as that handed down to the Muslims by the Prophet in his last days, arranged in the form still extant today.