of the Qur'an
Muhammad recited this Qur'an to others and in his prayers.
Others have done the same ever since, some memorising
parts of the Qur'an and others memorising the Qur'an
in its entirety. This helped the Qur'an to become unrivalled
as a work of its time in terms of the care and effort
which were employed to ensure that it would be preserved
for all mankind.
Once a part of the Qur'an had been revealed to the
prophet (pbuh) he would dictate it to scribes who would
make written records of every word recited. These writings
would then be read back to the prophet to ensure that
they had been correctly recorded. Others around at the
time would make their own copies for their private use.
These fragments of revelation came together and were
linked into a specific sequence. The sequence defined
what is the current ordering of verses in the Qur'an
and the prophet (pbuh) affirmed that it was given to
him as part of the revelation he received. This sequence
was set out through the recitation of Qur'an during
prayers and in particular during the month of Ramadan
when the prophet (pbuh) would recite the whole of the
Qur'an in its correct order.
A year after the prophets death, it was entrusted to
a main scribe Zaid ibn Thaabit to assemble these scattered
documents on which the verses of the Qur'an were written.
He was especially qualified since not only was he a
scribe, but he had also memorised the Qur'an completely
and was present during the final & complete recitation
of the Qur'an by the prophet.
Zaid established and applied a rigorous method of work:
he would not accept any writing that was not certified
by at least 2 witnesses. The witnesses would have to
have seen it being written down, not from memory, but
at the very dictation of the prophet (pbuh).
Having completed this task, the collection was given
to Abu Bakr - the immediate successor to Muhammad (pbuh)
as head of state.
After the collection was made, it was kept & guarded
by Abu Bakr and then the following head of state Umar.
The next head of state, Uthman, decided to publish it
so as to have copies available at the now remote frontiers
of the Islamic State. He did this by having four copies
made. These copies became the standard against which
all other fragments which people possessed were checked.
At least one of these Uthmanic copies still exists today.
This compilation of the Qur'an was unanimously recognised
as authoritative by the companions of the prophet at
the time. It is a strong evidence that for the authenticity
of the Qur'an that no other compilation has been used
for the 1400+ years since then no matter how implacable
certain sections of the Muslims were toward one another.
Variations do exist however in the readings of the
text even though there is no dispute about the basic
form of the text. These variations come through slight
differences in the words due to the old form of written
Arabic where diacritical marks (including for example
short vowels) were not marked in the written text. This
means that there is more than one reading that can fit
the text. The prophet explicitly accepted some of these
variations as equally valid and acceptable. The exact
reading of the text as well as any differing readings
were set through oral transmission of the recitation
of the Qur'an and through the choice of readings being
obvious from the context. The difference in meaning
that these differences in readings have is very slight.
The question arises of how reliable the historical
reports are. This is not a new question by any standards.
Islam had a distinct advantage over previous religions
in terms of the ability that the Early Muslims had to
preserve the original teachings. The Qur'an was completed
in an environment that could not be more different from
that of the material that now makes up the Bible. Muslims
were not a persecuted community but the rulers of a
state that was having military successes on all fronts.
This made collection of historical data much easier
and establishing the authenticity of various texts clearer.
The laws of the state that emerged from Muhammad's
great success as political leader were firmly based
on the teachings of Islam. This meant that a great deal
of effort went into establishing what the teachings
actually were. Indeed this effort was often inspired
by a strong religious intention to identify the truth
of such matters. This motivation also ensured that clear
honesty and objectivity is evident in how the studies
were carried out. Whole sciences grew up about which
sayings of Muhammad (pbuh) were authentic and which
were doubtful. The reports were traced back through
the people who narrated them. Some reports were taken
form what was written down at the time of Muhammad (pbuh);
others proved to be more dubious (the science to identify
which were which is called 'uloom ul-hadith). The narrators
of the reports of what Muhammad said were investigated
to see what their reputation was. For example, it was
asked of narrators whether they were ever known to have
lied (the study of narrators' reputations is called
'uloom ar-rijaal). Only chains of reporters (isnad)
containing just the names of 100% trustworthy narrators
were considered reliable enough to use in law making.
Hadiths (sayings or narrations) were categorised depending
on various criteria including this and many others,
which influence the authenticity. Much effort went into
this and there is a vast body of literature on the subject.
Of course establishing the exact authenticity of any
particular hadith is never 100% possible but at some
point the sources are judged to be reasonably sound
and reliable and to reject a well-authenticated hadith
would be judged unreasonable and therefore wrong.
As for the Qur'an. There has never been any doubt about
its authenticity. So many people memorised it by heart
and there was from the time of Muhammad a great deal
of written material which contained the text of the
Qur'an. In all the history of the Qur'an, since Uthman
commissioned written copies in the form of Books, there
has been one, and only one Qur'an and there have been
no changes in it. It is accepted by all Muslims as the
exact word of God.
One of the effects of the Qur'an is that huge efforts
were also made to preserve the meanings of the Arabic
language so that the sources of Islamic law would not
get lost through the evolution of the language. This
has meant that the classical Arabic can be studied today
and modern Arabic is very close indeed to its classical
ancestor. The extent to which the Arabic language has
remained unchanged for 1400 years show just how significant
the source texts of Islam were to the early Muslim generations.
These all contribute to proving beyond reasonable doubt
that the Qur'an is the same Qur'an that was revealed
to Muhammad and that the accounts of his life and his
saying are generally very well authenticated and reliable
- to an extent probably unlike the accounts of any other
character in history.
People bent on denying Islam sometimes try to make
challenges to this account of events. However, to do
so basically means believing that most if not all the
Muslims around throughout the history of Islam were
liars - is this reasonable?