The Purity of the text of the Holy Qur’an – Part 2

The Holy Qur’an was revealed, recited in full repeatedly, memorised by heart by many and preserved in written form during the life-time of the Holy Prophet(saw). (From The Review of Religions archive, 1907)

54 The Review of Religions – March 2006 2. Arguments showing that the Holy Qur’an was written in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet(saw) by his own direction. I will now consider the circum- stances which assisted in the preservation of the text of the Holy Qur’an. The first and the most important of these is that every verse of the Holy Qur’an was written in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet(saw) before his eyes. Writing was generally known at Makkah and Madinah before the advent of Islam, and though the Arabs generally trusted their wonderfully retentive memories for the preservation of thousands of verses and long lists of geneologies, yet they reduced to writing their more important compositions and hung them in some public place where their compatriots could see and admire them. Hence the seven famous odes known as ‘the seven suspended ones’. These odes were so named from the circumstance that they were suspended upon the Ka’aba by their authors, as odes of unequalled poetic beauty, at the pilgrimage season, and there they remained placarded for some time. There were seven different odes by seven different famous poets of the pre-Islamic days and were suspended in succession. Various anecdotes preserved to us in the traditions show that the whole of the Holy Qur’an existed in a written form in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet(saw), while the Holy Book itself contains many references showing that it was written at the time. But before referring to these two sources of evidence, I would give a quotation from Sir William Muir, showing that there is such an overwhelming evidence of the Qur’an having The Purity of the Text of the HOLY QUR’AN – Part 2 From the Review of Religions, 1907 55The Review of Religions – March 2006 been reduced to writing before the eyes of the Holy Prophet(saw) that one of the most hostile critics of Islam has found it impossible to deny its truth. He writes: ‘But there is good reason for believing that many fragmentary copies, embrac- ing amongst them the whole Coran, or nearly the whole, were during his lifetime made by the Prophet’s followers. Writing was without doubt generally known at Makkah long before Mahomet assumed the prophetical office. And at Madinah many of his followers were employed by the prophet in writing his letters or despatches. . . . . . The poorer captives taken at Bedr were offered their release on condition that they taught a certain number of Madinah citizens to write. And although the people of Madinah were not so generally educated as those of Makkah, yet many are noticed as having been able to write before Islam’. (Introduction to Muir’s Life of Mahomet, p.28) The Holy Qur’an itself furnishes ample evidence that it existed in a written form. It is again and again called the kitab which means a book or a thing written. The Qur’an is also designated as the ‘suhuf’ which means written papers. Thus in xcviii: 2, we have the Arabic which means ‘a messenger from God reading to them pure pages in which are unchanging books.’ The pure pages are the pages of the Holy Qur’an and the unchanging books are its chapters, for not only is the entire Qur’an called Alkitab or the Book, but its different chapters are also called books, Again in Ch.29: Vs.11-15, Rodwell renders the Arabic as follows: ‘Verily it (the Qur’an) is, a warning (and whoso is willing beareth it in mind) written on honoured pages, exalted, purified by the hands of scribes, honored, righteous.’ The word sahifa (pl. suhuf) which is used here is the very word applied to the collections made by Zaid in the caliphate of Abu Bekr and later in that of Othman. Thus we see that the Holy Qur’an describes itself in clear words both as a kitab and as THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 56 The Review of Religions – March 2006 sahifa, words used in the Arabic language to denote a written book, a fact to which every dictionary of the Arabic language testifies. From the same root sahaf is derived the word mushaf, a name to this day applied to the Holy Qur’an, which means a book or a volume consisting of a collection of sahifas or written pages (see Lane’s Lexicon under the root: The word Qur’an is derived from the root Qara which means reading or reciting, and the Holy Book is called the Qur’an showing that it was meant for reading or reciting. Every portion of it was both written and recited and hence it is the Qur’an as well as the kitab. There are many other references in the Holy Qur’an showing that its chapters existed in a written form at an early date. The fifty- sixth chapter of the Holy Book which is entitled alwaqiah or the ‘Inevitable’ is among the earliest chapters revealed at Makkah, and in it occur the following verses: ‘Verily it is the honorable Qur’an written in the preserved Book: let none touch it but the purified’ (76- 78). These verses establish two points; firstly, that the Qur’an asserted to be a preserved Book, i.e., a book which none could alter, and secondly, that it claimed to be written at that early date, because the impure are forbidden to touch it. If it was not found in a written form, it could not be described as a thing which could be touched. Rodwell gives the following footnote under this passage: ‘This passage implies the existence of copies of portions at least of the Koran in common use. It was quoted by the sister of Omar when, at his conversion, he desired to take her copy of Sura 20 into his hands. Verses 77, 78, were directed by the Calif Muhammad Abulcasim bin Abdulla to be inscribed on all copies of the Koran’ (Rodwell’s Koran, p.54). To say that the passage affords evidence of copies only of some portions of the Holy Qur’an is not true. The verse does not contain any word which can lead us to the THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 57The Review of Religions – March 2006 conclusion that some portions of the Holy Book were not written. It speaks of the whole of the Qur’an and not of some portions of it to the exclusion of others. The testimony afforded by the verse is that the Holy Qur’an was written and to show that any portion of it was not written there must be opposing evidence. But in the Holy Qur’an and the traditions there is not to be met with the least trace of any such evidence. On the other hand, it is an admitted fact that every portion of the Holy Qur’an was looked upon with the same reverence by the Muslims and every word of it was believed to be the Word of God. It is, therefore, quite unreasonable to suppose that some portions of the Holy Qur’an were written while others were not. There is not a single circumstance in the whole history of Islam which should entitle us to make any such distinction between the different portions of the Holy Qur’an and to suppose that while some chapters were written, the others were not thought fit to be written, or that the same care was not taken of all the parts or that the same desire to preserve every word of the Holy Qur’an was not shown by the Holy Prophet(saw) or his followers. The Holy Qur’an was a ‘book,’ ‘written in honored pages’ which ‘none but the pure should touch’ and these descrip-tions apply to each and every word of the Holy Book. Again, it is in a chapter revealed and proclaimed at Makkah that we meet with the following challenge to the unbelievers who looked upon the Holy Qur’an as a fabrication of the Prophet. ‘If they shall say, “The Qur’an is his own device”, say, “Then bring ten Suras like it of your devising, and call whom you can to your aid beside God, if you are men of truth”’ (Ch.11:V.14). A similar challenge is contained in a chapter of a still earlier date: ‘Say, Assuredly if mankind and the Jinn should conspire to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce its like, though the one should help the other’ (Ch.17: V.89). THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 58 The Review of Religions – March 2006 And in a chapter revealed at Madinah, we have: ‘And if you be in doubt as to that which we have sent down to Our servant, then produce a Sura of like sort, and summon your witnesses besides God if you are truthful: But if you do it not, and by no means shall you do it, then fear the fire prepared for the unbelievers’ (Ch.2: Vs.24-25) Now all these challenges to the opponents to produce one sura or ten suras like the Qur’an imply that the suras of the Holy Qur’an existed in a written form at the time of the challenge, because otherwise the challenge would have been meaningless. The unbelievers could not be expected to commit to memory the whole or several chapters of the Qur’an, and therefore, they could not be challenged to produce its like unless they could have access to the written chapters. In traditions of the highest authority there are numerous anecdotes showing that when the Holy Prophet(saw) received a revelation it was at once reduced to writing. The first revelation which the Holy Prophet(saw) received was brought to him written on a paper1, which the angel asked him to read, and probably it was a hint to the prophet that every revelation which was brought to him should be written down. However, that may be, it is a fact that every verse or chapter of the Holy Qur’an when it was revealed was put to writing in the presence of the Holy Prophet(saw). Thus in a tradition related by Abu Daood, Tirmadhi and Ahmad, the Caliph Othman thus explained the practice as to the writing of the revelations of the Holy Qur’an: ‘It was customary with the Messenger of God(saw), when portions of different chapters were revealed to him, that when any verse was revealed, he called one of “those persons who used to write the Holy Qur’an and said to him; ‘Write these verses in the chapter where such and such verses occur’.” THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 59The Review of Religions – March 2006 This tradition mentions, not what the Holy Prophet(saw) did on one occasion, but what he always used to do, when any verse of the Holy Qur’an was revealed to him. The person who describes this practice of the Holy Prophet(saw) is Othman, one of the earliest converts to Islam and a son-in-law of the Holy Prophet(saw). Thus we have the clearest testimony that every verse of the Divine revelation was put to writing by the order and in the presence of the Holy Prophet(saw), while additional care was taken by him to point out the place and chapter of a verse when there were two or more unfinished chapters, so that the Scribes might not confuse verses of one chapter with those of another. This evidence is conclusive because there is not the slightest evidence that any portion of the Holy Qur’an was left without writing. Other traditions of the highest authority support the evidence of Othman. Thus Bukhari reports under the heading ‘The Amanuensis of the Prophet(saw)’ the following tradition from Bara:. ‘When the verse: was revealed, the Prophet(saw) said, ‘Bring Zaid to me and he should come with the tablet and the inkstand.’ Then he said to him (Zaid), Write (the verse revealed).’ In another tradition reported by Bukari under the same heading, Abu Bakr(as) addresses Zaid, the same man who was ordered to write the verse in the above tradition, in these words: ‘Verily thou didst use to write the revelation for the Messenger of God, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him.’ Besides Zaid, who being the official scribe did by far the THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 60 The Review of Religions – March 2006 greater part of writing the revelations of the Holy Prophet(saw) at Madinah, many other persons are mentioned who did this work at Makkah, and in the absence of Zaid, at Madinah. Among these are mentioned the names of Abu Bakras), Omar(as), Othman(as), Ali(as), Abdulla bin Sa’d bin Abi Sarh (who became an apostate but embraced Islam again after the conquest of Makkah), Zubeir, son of Awam, Khalid and Aban, sons of Said, Ubayy son of Ka’b, Hanzala son of Rabi, Muaiqab son of Abu Fatima, Abdulla son of Arqam, Sharhubail son of Hasana and Abdulla son of Rawaha2. But it is not to be supposed that these were the only persons among the companions who could write or actually transcribed copies of the Holy Qur’an. These were the men who did the work of amanuenses for the Holy Prophet(saw) and whose names have been preserved to us in traditions. Nor is the list given above a complete list of all the amanuenses. Besides these traditions which directly establish the fact that every verse of the Holy Qur’an was written at the time of its revelation there are many other anecdotes supporting the same conclusion. For instance, Muslim reports a tradition according to which the Holy Prophet(saw) said to his com-panions: ‘Do not write from me anything except the Qur’an’. This direction which was meant as a precautionary step against the confusion of the Holy Qur’an with what the Holy Prophet(saw) spoke on other occasions, also shows clearly that arrangements had been made for the writing of the Holy Qur’an by the Holy Prophet(saw). The direction takes it for granted that the Holy Qur’an was written. If it had not been the practice to write every verse and chapter of the Holy Qur’an, no objection would have been taken to the writing of other words uttered by the Holy Prophet(saw). This conclusion is further corroborated by the circumstance that where there was no danger of confusion on the part of the writers, the writing of certain traditions was also allowed(3). THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 61The Review of Religions – March 2006 There is another tradition mentioned by Ibn-i-Hisham in the story of the conversion of Omar which shows that written copies of the chapters of the Holy Qur’an were in common use among the early Muslim converts at Makkah. Omar with a drawn sword in his hand made for the Holy Prophet(saw) one day to murder him. On the way he learnt that his own sister and brother-in-law were hidden converts to Islam. So he turned his steps to his sister’s house. ‘At that time there was in the house a third man, Khabbab son of Art, who had with him a volume in which was written Ta Ha (the twentieth Chapter of the Holy Qur’an) which he was teaching to Omar’s sister and her husband. When they perceived Omar coming, Kabbab hid himself in a corner of the house, and Fatima, Omar’s sister, took the volume and hid it under herself. But Omar had already so far approached them that he had heard the voice of Khabbab’s recital of the Holy Qur’an. So the first question he asked, when he entered the house, was as to what they were reading. They replied, ‘Thou hast not heard anything.’ He said, ‘Yes I have heard and I have been informed that you have followed Muhammad in his religion.’ Then he caught hold of his brother-in- law, Sai’d, son of Zaid. His sister advanced towards him to protect her husband and was severely hurt in the struggle. Then Omar’s sister and her husband told him that they were really converts to Islam and that he might do what he liked. When Omar saw his sister bleeding, he was sorry for what he had done and asked his sister to let him have the book which they were reading, so that he might see what it was that Muhammad had brought to them. Omar himself could write. On hearing his demand, his sister expressed the fear that he might destroy the document. Omar gave her his word and swore by his idols that he would return to her the document after perusing it. Then she told him that being a Musharik (one who set up false gods with God) he was impure and THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 62 The Review of Religions – March 2006 could not touch the Qur’an because it said that none should touch it except the pure. Then Omar washed himself and his sister handed over to him the book which had Ta Ha written in it. Omar read a portion of it and began to admire it and showed a reverence for the book. Thereupon Khabbab seeing that he was well disposed towards Islam, asked him to accept Islam.” This long quotation which is a part of the lengthy tradition of the conversion of Omar shows conclusively that at that early period copies of the Qur’an were commonly used by the believers. It is sometimes argued that such anecdotes only show that some chapters were written and that therefore there is no evidence that every verse of the Holy Qur’an was reduced to writing. But there is a fallacy in this argument. The statement that the twentieth chapter of the Holy Qur’an existed in a written form before the conversion of Omar is not made to give any importance to that chapter, so that one may think that the reporter mentioned it because of its peculiarity. On the other hand, this statement is made incidentally in a narrative reported with quite a different object, and hence it is only illustrative of the practice of the Holy Prophet(saw) and the Muslims at that early date. Even if there were no other evidence of the writing of the Holy Qur’an except this anecdote. still we would be justified in drawing from it the conclusion that the portions of the Holy Qur’an revealed up to that time existed in a written form and that it was the practice to write the revelation. The twentieth chapter did not possess any peculiarity which should have entitled it to be written while the other chapters were only orally recited. On the other hand, it is not one of the chapters which are mentioned as being commonly recited in public prayers, while numerous other chapters, some of them much longer than it, are mentioned as being thus recited, and it can be easily seen that written copies of chapters which were commonly recited in prayers must have been in use to a far greater extent. Hence the existence of the THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 63The Review of Religions – March 2006 twentieth chapter in a written form, the use of the manuscript made in Omar’s sister’s family which shows that similar use was made of this and other chapters among the believers, and that lady’s consciousness that the Holy Qur’an forbade the touching of its manuscripts by impure hands afford to us the clearest evidence that written copies of every chapter of the Holy Qur’an existed even at Makkah at a time when the converts to Islam were very few in numbers. REFERENCE 1. The tradition from which I draw this inference is given in the beginning of the Sahih Bukhari, and runs thus: ‘The angel came to him (the Holy Prophet(saw)) when he was in the cave of Hira and said to him “Read.” He replied: “I cannot read”.’ The tradition states that this was repeated three times, and after this the angel dictated to him the opening verses of the ninety- sixth chapter which is entitled the ‘Alaq’. The angel’s asking the Holy Prophet(saw) to read and his reply that he was unable to read show conclusively that the revelation was shown to him written, on a paper, and further that, the Holy Prophet(saw) could not himself read or write. 2. See Fath-ul-Bari, Vol IX, page 19, under the heading ‘The Amanuenses of the Holy Prophet.’ 3. See Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Ilm. THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN We hope you have enjoyed reading this edition of the magazine. 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