Preservation of the Qur'an
The Atlantic Monthly is a American magazine which is over 140 years old. It recently published an article on the Qur'an addressing its credibility from a historical perspective. The writer started the article with the news of the discovery of ancient Qur'anic manuscripts in Yemen, with some texts dating back to the seventh century AD. These texts are being studied , according to the article, by two German scientists named Gerd-R Puin and H-C Graf Von Brothmer. According to the writer of the article, the Government of Yemen did not grant access to these copies to anyone except for those two German scholars. This by itself questions the credibility of the government. How can Muslim scholars be denied any access to these documents? How can such study be conducted by non-Muslims?
A scientific study of any historical document must be objective and not influenced by the shade of ideology or this ideology may taint the outcome of such research. Unfortunately, the field of Islamic Studies and Religious Studies , in general, is full of "scholars" with obvious ideological agendas. Their ideology influences their scholarship and not the other way around. The Western scholars of Islam for the most part rely on secondary source material for their knowledge of Islam, and the use of primary texts are limited to translations of the few works which are available. Even the scholars who learn Arabic and make a more serious attempt to study Islam are often misguided and carry erroneous information about the basics of Islam. It is unfortunate that the Atlantic Monthly , a well-known magazine, has chosen to embark on this study of the Qur'an for the most part relying on the prejudicial and often erroneous views of such "scholars." The entire article contains no evidence to substantiate its claims, and its arguments are constructed based on the viewpoints of highly prejudiced individuals. The individuals quoted in this article represent the extremist fringe of their fields and present their "research" through the lens of hatred and enmity toward Islam. They make no secret of this enmity and openly call for Islam's intellectual destruction.
The article presents as its evidence several manuscripts of presumed Qur'anic text. The combined tens of thousands of fragments, according to the article, have thus far only been categorized
and treated for preservation. Also, the text has thus far been open for inspection to only two people, both of whom are German orientalists. The Yemenese government has not allowed any Muslim to inspect any of these documents. Despite the lack of any available evidence, the author takes the reader down the road
of fantasy, speculation, and deception attempting to deceive Muslims and non-Muslims alike in discussing the authenticity and clarity of the Qur'anic message. Regardless of this fact, the parchments are a significant historical find. The importance of this find is in the fact that it confirms that copies of the Qur'an existed in such quantities, even in the earliest days of Islamic history, that the Muslims could afford to bury the old and decrepit copies which they possessed. One should, however, compare the Qur'an which is in our hands today with the significance of these early manuscripts.
The Qur'an which Muslims read everyday is the same Qur'an that was compiled through an extensive and thorough compilation process which had multiple checks to ensure its absolute authenticity. The writer of the article in question made several serious mistakes in this regard. First, he stated that the Qur'an was originally compiled by Uthman (the third khalifah of Islam), which is a wrong conclusion. The Qur'an was first compiled during the days of the Prophet himself. Whenever the Prophet received a revelation, he used to call his companions and recite the ayah to them. He, as well as his companions, would memorize these ayahs. In addition, the Prophet used to call some specific individuals and ask them to document the ayah and write it. Those who used to memorize the Qur'an would do so in the same order as the ayahs of each surah. Thus, the "soft copy" was compiled in the hearts of many individuals. Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Zaid Bin Thabet, Ubayy Bin Ka'ab, Abdullah Bin Masoud, Musab Bin Umair, Abdullah Bin Umm Maktum, Muath Bin Jabal, Abu Hurairah, Salm, Abdullah Bin Alzubair, Anas Bin Malik are just a few names of individuals who memorized the Qur'an.
Even the "hard copy," or the written copy of the Qur'an, was documented completely during the days of the Prophet, although during his time these documents were not compiled into a single folder. The Prophet used to call some individuals and instruct them to write the revelation. Some noted individuals who were delegated this task were: Abu Bakr, Umar, Khalid Bin Al-waleed, Zayd ibn Thabit, `Ali ibn Abi Talib, Aban, Bin Said, Mu`awiyah and others. Thus, the first compilation of the Qur'an consisted of both memorization as well as documentation of the entire book, and both were done during the time of the Prophet under his direct supervision.
The second compilation was done by Zaid ibn Thabit under the orders of Abu Bakr (the first khalifah
of the Muslims) soon after the death of the Prophet (Peace and blessing of Allah upon him). He gathered the hard copy of the Qur'an and compiled the documented revelation into one folder. And the "soft copy" was still saved in the hearts of those who continued to memorize Qur'an. Zaid complied the Mushaf and collected the copies written in the days of the Prophet himself and only under his instructions.
Zaid established a committee in order to perform this task of compilation and adopted the following criterion in accepting any copy or document of the Qur'an:
a). He required the presence of two witnesses to testify that this copy was written by the order of the Prophet under his instructions and in his presence.
b). Another two witnesses must also have memorized the contents of such a copy.
c). The members of the presiding committee also memorized the contents, although none of them were accepted as witnesses.
Thus, each copy presented had at least five witnesses: the owner of the manuscript or document, the memorizers, and the two witnesses who witnessed the writing during the time of the Prophet himself. In addition, Abu Bakr and Umar supervised this entire process. Once it was agreed by this assembly of those present at the time of the Prophet Muhammad's revelations, then the copy would be accepted and added to the folder. The combined mushaf (the Qur'anic text) was eventually given to the widow of the Prophet, Hafsah who was also the daughter of Omar (the second khalifah of the Muslims) for safekeeping and was called Hafsah's Mushaf.
During the rule of Uthman, a series of problems occurred. The dialectal differences in Arabic among the different Arab tribes were causing disputes over the pronunciation of some ayahs of the Qur'an. The Prophet used to recite some ayahs in more than one way. He could quell any dispute that may occur as a result of this with authority, but with his death the only resource left were those who memorized the Qur'an. The Sahabah lived in different areas and started teaching the people, who began reciting the Qur'an based on the way they were taught. This caused some people to debate which recitation is the authentic one. These differences were not significant during the days of the Prophet himself since he was the reference in any dispute or issue. But, after his death, such a dispute had the potential to continue unresolved. As a result, Uthman acted immediately to address this issue, and in 651 C.E., Uthman ordered a committee to copy the master copy that Hafsah possessed. They made six copies, which were written in such a way that they accommodated all the recitations taken from the Prophet. Once they finished these six copies, which were compared to Hafsah's Mushaf for authenticity, all other individual copies owned by individual Sahaba were burned. Uthman sent these six copies all over the Muslim world, keeping one copy in Madinah and returning the original master copy to Hafsah. These were known as the "Uthmanic Mushaf", and since then, Muslims duplicated all of their copies from these master copies. (In fact, three of these original six copies from this period exist today: one in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, another in the Cairo Museum, and a third in Bukhara).
The author also states that the copies found in Yemen are the oldest copies ever discovered, which is another mistake. The Uthmani copies are the oldest, and some copies still exist in the museums as mentioned earlier. The Uthmani copies of the Qur'an which exist in the various museums all date back to 647 CE, which is only fourteen years after the death of the Prophet. In the 10th century, diacritical marks and vowelling were allowed to be added as an aid in pronouncing the text. This was helpful in the recitation of a language written only using consonants. Still, not a word was changed, which further ensured the integrity of the Qur'an. All of the early historical experts of Islamic history confirm this fact.
Furthermore, the Arabs of the time of the Prophet were steeped in a tradition of oral history. In fact, many of the people would refrain from writing because they deemed it a inaccurate method of keeping facts. Arab poets used to memorize long poetry which was recited for days. Other Arabs used to memorize lineages for every tribe and knew the detailed background and history of the tribes in their area. At the instant the Qur'an was revealed, it was memorized in totality by numerous Companions of the Prophet (Sahabah). These Sahabah transmitted this Qur'an to the next generation through memorization, and this practice continued until today where millions of Muslims have memorized the Qur'an in its entirety. Numerous people memorized the Qur'an who did not read a word from the original copy of the "Uthmani Qur'an" but they learned it from previous people who had memorized the Qur'an. Such a memorization process was so successful that, assuming no hard copy existed, it would be sufficient to establish a conclusive proof with no room for doubt regarding the Qur'an's authenticity. This unbroken chain of oral tradition is yet another check on the authenticity of the Qur'an.
The Qur'anic texts discovered by the Yemenese government were texts which were meant to be lost forever by the people who disposed of them. Obviously these Muslims would not have disposed of such copies without reason. The manuscripts which were found in this "paper grave" were most likely buried because they were worn-out , damaged , and imperfect copies. The burial of Qur'anic text was a common practice seen as the most suitable way to dispose of the text. A Muslim would not want to keep an imperfect copy of the Qur'an, especially in early Islamic history, when the order was still fresh from Uthman to dispose of such imperfect copies. Thus, the sheer bulk of the text unearthed in Yemen suggests that it was a community decision to institute a methodology to take undesirable copies out of circulation. The owners did not want to keep imperfect copies of the Qur'an, and instead of trashing these texts or burning them, they chose to bury them in keeping with their sanctity.
Also, it is known that Islam has allowed Muslims to bury any "distorted" copy. If a Muslim finds a false copy or a copy of the Qur'an with spelling mistakes, then he may either burn it or bury it. Thus, finding
these copies does not signify anything more than the existence of some mistakes in making some copies
in some areas or during a specific time. Finding these copies does not mean that the Qur'an was tampered with. It is quite odd that such inferior texts, rather than enjoying a footnote in the pages of history, are placed in the limelight by modern Orientalists who claim that these texts are a sign of the Qur'an's inaccuracy.
A comparison of these copies can be made with a person who is typing a news article on a typewriter about a fire in a cityand makes a mistake stating that there was no fire. The journalist then throws this copy of the paper away and writes the correct article. No one can then obtain the original article and say that there was no fire. The fire is a fact and everyone knows it occurred, and the mistake is in the journalist who typed that particular copy. The journalist does not even claim that the original is correct. Instead, he cites just the opposite by claiming that the original is incorrect, and he tries to destroy that incorrect article. Similarly, these copies of Qur'anic texts cannot be claimed as anything but erroneous. The finding of these texts suggest nothing else. A scholar who is seriously interested in a study of the original copies of the Qur'an can go to the museums of Topkapi and Cairo and compare the original copies with the Qur'an which is recited today by over one billion Muslims. These copies are the authentic and oldest copies of the Qur'an available.
The author also brings in the Muatazilite scholars as a proof that even Muslims quarreled about the authenticity of the Qur'an. This is a totally erroneous concept and demonstrates that the author does not even have a true grasp of Islamic history. The Muatazilite scholars never suggested that the Qur'an
was anything less than the absolute Word of God. They never debated the authenticity of Qur'an. They debated the place of the Qur'an on the metaphysical level and its effect on the Islamic ideology. Their theory circled around whether the Qur'an was created or not and the resultant philosophical arguments which came from each response, which is totally different from the issue of authenticity.
The author ends the article by mentioning John Wansborough and his study of the Qur'an. Wansborough'sconclusion is that the Koran evolved over two centuries to its current form, mostly affected in the meantime by Jewish and Christian religious thought. A natural progression on this train of thought would then suggest that there should be a dozen Qur'ans , and not just one unified book which is present
today. Such versions are numerous for the Bible, and many Gospels were thrown out of the final book which Christians read today. Numerous stories are also present in the Qur'an which are not found in Biblical text , and many stories which are somewhat common add which are found nowhere else. Wansborough applies his own prejudice as a Christian to Islam and concludes that Islam must be a bastardization of Christianity and Judaism. A careful analysis of the Qur'an would eliminates such a view as its style is unique and miraculous. In fact, this view must come from a total ignorance of the original copies of the Qur'an available today in various museums. In the end, ignorance and blind prejudice come to the same false conclusions.
The author states at the end of the article that Qur'anic revisionism should not be looked at as antagonistic but rather can be done with the "aim of spiritual and moral regeneration." This statement should be taken in the context of a statement in the first part of the article which reads "the Koran is currently the world's most ideological influential text." The Qur'an is the backbone of the Islamic ideology. The Islamic ideology poses the only remaining challenge to the ideology of capitalistic democracy which rules
the world today. As S.Parvez Mansoor says "Only a Muslim confounded of the historical authenticity or doctrinal autonomy of the Qur'anic revelation would abdicate his global mission and hence pose no challenge to the global domination of the West." The real aim and objective of this Qur'anic
revisionism and the so-called scholars involved in it is an attack on Islam to steal it of its vitalism and rob the ideology of its compelling authenticity. In the past, this attack was directed at the Sunnah of the
Prophet alone. The Sunnah was rejected totally as unreliable by these same people, and many Muslims were carried away in their arguments. This attack continues today in various devious forms, often from Muslim imams themselves who are either confused or agents of the West. These same people, not being
content with attacking the Sunnah, have now drifted onwards to the Qur'an.
As Muslims, we know that we have the ultimate Truth in our hands in the form of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. We have absolute certainty that the Qur'an is the direct Word of God. It is this confidence which propels us forward to call strongly for all humanity to accept Islam and for Muslims to implement it as
it should be implemented. It is the aim of the enemies of Islam to rob us of this vitality and to defeat Islam on the intellectual battlefield by discrediting both the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Truly we can look at amazement at the task of compiling this Qur'an which the Sahabah performed flawlessly and thus
ensuring its truth. The job was performed so well that today over one billion Muslims recite the exact same Qur'an and read from the exact same musahif. In fact, in all of Islamic history, there was never a second version of the Qur'an, much less multiple versions which were suggested in this article.
Logically if the Qur'an was collected much later than the Sahabah's time, it would be like the Bible with its many versions and numerous textual controversies. But Islamic history makes the Qur'an free of any textual controversy. Islam spread to half the known world in only a few years after the death of the Prophet. Surely, it would be extremely hard to fool so many people regarding the Qur'an's authenticity. No single report from all those people exists mentioning the Muslims arguing about the Qur'an, or of multiple versions of the Qur'an, or of any battles between Muslims about this issue. If Islam expanded and encompassed so many new lands and came in contact with people from all corners of the world, then any debate regarding the Qur'an's authenticity would have been documented.
Indeed Muslims have never experienced any controversy over the Qur'an's authenticity in their history. The Qur'an's authenticity is proven beyond a doubt by conclusive evidences. A Qur'an exits today from 647 CE, only 14 years after the death of the Prophet, and is available to anyone for inspection. Only recently when Islam became weak and lost its political power as an ideological state did the enemies of Islam begin to attack Islam as a whole. Thus, the Ummah must reestablish Islam as a state that will enable Muslims to establish their own think tanks, scholars, and journalistic machines which will correctly address Islam as well as all other ideologies.