The Companions of the Holy Prophet (sa) The Holy Qur'an

THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 3

48 The Review of Religions – February 2007 It has already been shown that when any verse of the Holy Qur’an was revealed to the Holy Prophet(saw), he used to send for one of his scribes to dictate it to him. Thus every verse of the Holy Qur’an was written in his presence. We also learn from numerous traditions that whenever a passage was revealed, it was recited by the Holy Prophet(saw) to those who happened to be present at the time, whether friends or foes, and many of his followers committed it to memory at once, others again learning it from those who heard it from the mouth of the Holy Prophet(saw). The importance of the Holy Qur’an for the companions lay not only in the fact that it was a code of moral and social laws for them of which it was sufficient for them to know the general purport. They believed every word and every letter of it to proceed from no other than the Divine source, and hence every word of it was for them a heavenly treasure they had on earth, and, therefore, they secured it in the securest of places, viz., their hearts. For its sake they suffered all kinds of persecution and forsook their friends, their relatives, their properties, their homes. Every new verse revealed breathed new life into them. Hence they tried their utmost to keep themselves acquainted with every fresh revelation. Those among them who followed the profession of trade or any other profession spent a part of the day in the transaction of their affairs and the rest in the company of the Holy Prophet(saw). Many of them had made special arrange- ments among themselves to be The Purity of the Text of the HOLY QUR’AN PART 4 From the Review of Religions, 1907 49The Review of Religions – February 2007 kept apprised of the new revelations that came to the Holy Prophet(saw). The second Caliph, Omar, tells us, according to a report of Bukhari, that he and one of his neighbors from among the Ansar living in one of the suburbs of Madinah used to go in turns to the Holy Prophet(saw), each of them remaining in his company for a day while the other did his work. ‘When I went to the Holy Prophet(saw), I brought to him the news of that day relating to revelation and other things, and when he went, then he brought me the news’ (Bukhari). There were also companions who after the flight to Madinah had no work to do because of the interruption of their business by their persecutors. They passed their whole time in the mosque and were ever ready to commit to memory any fresh revelation that the Holy Prophet(saw) might announce. The Holy Prophet(saw) himself laid the greatest stress upon the learning, reciting and teaching of the Holy Qur’an. Muslim relates in his Sahih a tradition from Aqba bin Amir who said that one day ‘the Holy Prophet came out and we were in the Suffah (an appertenance) of the Mosque, and he asked, ‘which of you likes to go every day to Bathan or Aqiq, and bring two female camels with large humps upon their backs, without doing any wrong to any body or to a relative?’ We replied: ‘O Messenger of God, we all like it.’ He said: ‘Does not one of you come in the morning to the mosque, and teach or repeat two verses of the Book of God, which is better for him than two camels, and three verses are better than three camels, and four verses than four camels: in this way is any number of verses better than the same number of camels’. Bukhari reports Othman as saying that the Holy Prophet(saw) said: ‘that the best man among you is he who has learnt the Qur’an and teaches it.’ Other traditions to the same effect and adjudged to be trustworthy by both Bukhari and Muslim run as follows: ‘Ayesha says that the Holy Prophet(saw) said: ‘The skilful in reciting the Qur’an are classed with the THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 50 The Review of Religions – February 2007 scribes who are honoured and virtuous; and he who reiterates in reciting the Qur’an on account of his inability to recite it has a double reward.’ Ibn-i-Omar reported that the Messenger of God(saw) said: ‘No one is to be envied but two persons – one, a man to whom God has given the Qur’an, and he recites it day and night and acts upon it, and the other a man whom God has given wealth and he spends it in the way of God day and night’. ‘Abu Musa Ash’ari reported the following words from the Holy Prophet(saw): ‘The condition of a Muslim who reads the Qur’an is like the fruit of the orange tree, its taste is agreeable and so also is its odour; and the condition of a Muslim who does not read the Qur’an is like the date which has a sweet taste but has no odour.’ The last tradition compares the Muslim who acts upon the injunctions of the Holy Qur’an but does not recite it, with him who both acts upon it and recites it, and thus it shows that it was not simply acting upon the Holy Qur’an on which the Holy Prophet(saw) laid stress, but he made its simple recitation equally important. The recitation was needed not only to guard the text of the Holy Qur’an, but also to keep its injunctions fresh in the mind. Various other traditions of undoubted authenticity, showing that the recitation of the Qur’an was an important obligation which lay upon every Muslim, are contained in the books on traditions. Bukhari has a chapter named the ‘chapter on istidhkar of the Qur’an and its ta’ahud’ that is ‘reciting the Qur’an frequently and returning to it time after time.’ In this chapter various traditions are related enjoining the frequent recitation of the Holy Qur’an. The same renowned and trustworthy traditionist has another chapter headed: ‘the teaching of the Qur’an to children,’ a third with the heading: ‘the most excellent of men is he who recites and teaches the Qur’an,’ and a fourth which is headed: ‘the reading of the Qur’an from memory.’ For the THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 51The Review of Religions – February 2007 sake of brevity I give simply the headings of the chapters and refrain from quoting the traditions narrated by the learned collector to prove the various assertions contained in them. These head- ings are sufficient to show that committing the Qur’an to memory was enjoined by the Holy Prophet(saw) upon all his followers and it was considered by the companions to be a duty fraught with great religious merit. Hence it was necessary that every one of them should commit to memory at least some parts of the Holy Book. Though even now there are thousands of men in every Muslim country who can repeat the whole of the Qur’an from memory, the particular conditions of Arabia facilitated the task to a far greater extent. This is admitted, even by a hostile critic: ‘Passionately fond of poetry but without the ready means for committing to writing the effusions of their bards, the Arabs had long been used to imprint these, as well as the traditions of genealogical and tribal events, on the living tablets of the heart. The recollective faculty was thus cultivated to the highest pitch; and it was applied, with all the ardour of an awakened spirit, to the Coran.’(1) It appears from the above traditions that the Holy Prophet(saw) desired that his com- panions should try to excel each other in their knowledge of the Holy Qur’an. There were other reasons which made the companions vie with one another in committing the Holy Book to memory. The office of imamat or leading public prayers was as a rule bestowed upon the man who had greater knowledge of the Holy Qur’an. All authentic traditions establish this point. One tradition tells us that in a certain tribe an eight year old boy used to lead the prayers because he knew a greater portion of the Holy Qur’an than any other member of that tribe. This boy Amru bin Salma thus relates his own story: ‘We, (i.e., the tribe to which the narrator belonged) had alighted in a place by water, and people who went to the Holy Prophet(saw) passed by us. THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 52 The Review of Religions – February 2007 When they returned they used to repeat to us the revelations which they heard from the Holy Prophet(saw). I had a good memory and so while there I committed to memory a great portion of the Holy Qur’an from these visitors. After a time my father also went to the Holy Prophet(saw) with some people of his tribe to declare their acceptance of Islam. The Holy Prophet(saw) taught them the prayers and told them that the prayers should be led by a person who knew more of the Qur’an than others. On account of what I had already committed to mem- ory, I satisfied this condition. So they made me their imam.’(2) These people were among the later converts to Islam. Bukhari also tells us that the office of imamat was conferred upon deserving persons irrespective of their nationality or position in society. The distinction to have the office of imamat (the leading of congregational prayers) conferred on one was a practical incentive to a greater knowledge of the Qur’an. Similarly when a new tribe accepted Islam, the man who was chosen to be sent to them to teach them the doctrines and principles of the new faith was one who was most acquainted with the Qur’an. These were not the only ways in which the reciters of the Qur’an were honored in those early days. There are many traditions which show that the reciters of the Qur’an were highly honoured and respected in every way among the companions. These were the reasons which led a great number of the companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) to engrave the words of the Qur’an on the tablets of their hearts. The Holy Prophet(saw) himself set an example in frequently reciting the Holy Qur’an in public as well as in private. It was not only in prayers that long portions of the Holy Book were recited. We have on record instances showing that he recited certain chapters when travelling on the back of a camel(3) and that he loved to hear others recite the holy Word. According to one tradition he kept waking on a certain night to listen to a person who was reciting the Qur’an in the Mosque (Bukhari, chapter on THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 the ‘forgetting of the Qur’an’). Another tradition also related by Bukhari represents Abdulla as saying: ‘The Messenger(saw) of God, said to me: ‘Recite to me the Qur’an.’ I replied, ‘What! should I recite to you and to you it has been revealed? ‘ He said, ‘I love to hear others recite it.’ Thereupon I began to recite the chapter entitled Women.’(4) These anecdotes show that the Holy Prophet(saw) induced his companions by his own example to recite the Holy Qur’an. These inducements were not without their effect. The Muslims treasured the Word of God in their hearts and its reading and teaching became very common. So common had the recitation of the Qur’an become indeed that when the Holy Prophet(saw) spoke of the disappearance of the knowledge of the Qur’an at some future time, Ziyad, son of Labid, one of the companions, at once cried out: ‘How would knowledge disappear, O Messenger of God, when we read the Qur’an and teach it to our children, and our children would teach it to their children, so on till the judgment day?’ This question arose out of a misapprehension of the words of the Holy Prophet(saw) who meant, not that the words of the Holy Qur’an would disappear, but that people would cease to act in accordance with the spirit of those words. This tradition related by Tirmidhi and some other collectors of tradition has already been quoted, and it shows that every verse of the Holy Qur’an had such a wide publication among the companions and was so generally known to them that they could not even think how any part of it could disappear. There are also traditions which show that the injunctions of the Holy Prophet(saw), relating to the committing of the Holy Qur’an to memory and its frequent recitation, were so literally carried out by the companions that he himself had to give them directions against a course which might be a burden to them. In a tradition related in the Bukhari (chapter headed: ‘In how many days should the Qur’an be read’) it is stated that one of the 53 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 The Review of Religions – February 2007 companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) who finished the recitation of the whole of the Qur’an once every night was expressly enjoined by him to finish it at the least in three or five or seven days and was forbidden to go through the whole once every night. This tradition shows clearly that there were companions who could recite the whole Qur’an in a single night. The direction given by the Holy Prophet(saw) that the recitation of the Holy Qur’an should not be finished in less than three days was meant to inform them that it should be read thoughtfully. Similarly in a report received through a different chain of reporters, the same companion Abdulla, son of Amru, is represented as asking the Holy Prophet(saw) how much time he should take to finish one reading of the Qur’an. The Prophet told him that he should finish it in thirty days. He replied that he could do it sooner whereupon the Holy Prophet(saw) lessened the time by five days. Thus he continued to express his ability to finish the Qur’an sooner and the Holy Prophet(saw) went on lessening the limit every time by a few days till he reached the number five (according to another report three).(5) Ibn-i-Masood relates that the Holy Prophet(saw) said: ‘Read the Qur’an in seven days and do not read it in less than three days’(6) According to another report Ayesha said that: ‘the Holy Prophet(saw) did not usually finish the Qur’an in less than three days.’(7) All these traditions show clearly that the companions vied with one another in the frequent recitation of the Qur’an and that many of them could recite the whole in a single day. In fact, so frequently was the recitation of the Holy Qur’an resorted to that injunctions became necessary to stop a too rapid recitation. It is also clear from these traditions that the whole of the Qur’an was committed to memory by many of the companions, otherwise it could not be spoken of as being finished in a stated interval of time. That it was recited from memory is clear from the fact that it was recited at night. 54 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 The Review of Religions – February 2007 These conclusions are further supported by many trustworthy traditions which relate that there were numerous men among the companions who could recite the Holy Qur’an from memory. These men were called the Qurra or the reciters, and they were known to have committed the Qur’an to memory. The author of the Fath- ul-Bari explains the word Qurra as meaning: ‘persons noted for committing the Qur’an to memory and for teaching it to others.’ Of course the word also signified persons having a sound knowledge of the Qur’an. Seventy of the Qurra were treacherously put to death at the Bir Mauna by a tribe of the unbelievers. This is a fact testified by the most trustworthy and authentic traditions related by Bukhari and other reliable collectors. The fact that such a large number of them was murdered in the life-time of the Holy Prophet(saw) shows that there were hundreds of them among the companions. In the chapter headed ‘the Qurra from among the companions of the Holy Prophet’ Bukhari relates several traditions. In the first of these, Abdullah, son of Amru (who, as we have already seen, had committed the whole of the Qur’an to memory) is reported to have said when speaking of Abdulla, son of Masood: ‘I shall ever love him, for I heard the Holy Prophet(saw) say: Learn the Qur’an from four men, from Abdulla son of Masood, Salim, Muadh and Ubayy son of Kab.’(8) This, of course, did not imply inability on the part of the other companions to teach the Holy Qur’an, nor did the words mean that none of the companions besides these four retained the whole of the Qur’an in his memory. In fact to be a good teacher of the Holy Qur’an, it was not sufficient that a person should be able to recite the Holy Book from memory. What was further necessary was that he should have a good understanding and a sound knowledge of the Holy Qur’an. The tradition only shows that the four men named could teach any and every chapter of the Holy 55 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 The Review of Religions – February 2007 Qur’an and hence they themselves also knew the whole of it. Probably they were named because they always tried to learn the revelations directly from the Holy Prophet(saw). One of them Abdulla, son of Masood, it is reported in the very next tradition, used to say that he received over seventy chapters of the Holy Qur’an directly from the mouth of the Holy Prophet(saw). It was probably on account of some such peculiarity that the Holy Prophet(saw) named four men only, for other traditions tell us that there were many other companions, who could recite the whole of the Qur’an from memory. To take an example, Abu Bakr(ra) is not named in the above tradition, but it is a fact that he retained the whole of the Qur’an in his memory. It was Abu Bakr(ra) whom the Holy Prophet(saw) appointed on his death-bed to lead the public prayers. Now authentic traditions, as already stated, show that the person appointed to lead the prayers was always one who knew more of the Qur’an than his audience. In cases where several persons had equal knowledge, as, for instance, when they all knew the whole of the Qur’an by heart, other tests were, applied. Now tradition tells us that there were men among the companions who could recite the whole of the Qur’an from memory. Therefore Abu Bakr(ra) could not be appointed to lead the prayers if his knowledge of the Qur’an were not as extensive. Hence it follows that Abu Bakr(ra) also could recite the whole of the Qur’an from memory. There are many other indications such as the building of a mosque in the yard of his house where he used to recite the Holy Qur’an every day, his keeping constant company of the Holy Prophet(saw), which shows that Abu Bakr(ra) knew the whole of the Qur’an by heart. Similarly, Abdullah, son of Omar, retained the whole of the Qur’an in his memory and finished it every night and the Holy Prophet(saw) having come to know this told him to finish it once in a month.(9) In fact, many persons are mentioned as being able to recite 56 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 The Review of Religions – February 2007 the whole of the Qur’an from memory in the life-time of the Holy Prophet(saw), among these being the four Caliphs, vis., Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali, and such renowned companions as Talha, Sad, Ibn-i-Masood, Salim, Abu Huraira, while three women, viz., Ayesha, Hafsa and Umm-i- Salma are also named in the same category(saw). Several other persons are also named from among the Helpers as being able to recite the whole of the Qur’an from memory. But it is not to be supposed that only those persons were the reciters whose names have been preserved to us in traditions. Seventy of them were killed by treachery in the life-time of the Holy Prophet(saw) and about the same number fell in the battle of Yamama which was fought a few months after the death of the Holy Prophet(saw). Among these was also Salim whose name is clearly mentioned among those who could recite the whole of the Qur’an, yet when Omar made a representation to Abu Bakr(ra) for the collection of the Qur’an, he did not particularly name Salim, but only said that death had taken away many of the Qurra (reciters) in the field of Yamama.(10) Had there been none among the slain except Salim who could recite the whole of the Qur’an from memory, Omar would not have spoken of the reciters generally. There is only one tradition whose evidence is considered to be conflicting with that furnished by all the traditions cited above. This tradition which is narrated by Bukhari runs as follows: ‘Anas reported that the Holy Prophet(saw), died while none had collected the Qur’an with the exception of four men, Abu-Darda and Muadh son of Jabal, and Zaid son of Thabit and Abu Zaid.’ In a tradition to the same effect reported by the same authority the name of Ubayy, son of Kab, is mentioned in the place of Abu- Darda. This tradition apparently contradicts many other traditions if the ‘collecting’ of the Qur’an is taken to be equivalent to the committing of the whole of the Qur’an to memory and no 57 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 The Review of Religions – February 2007 limitation is placed upon the meaning of the tradition. The word ‘jama’ which means collecting is generally applied in the traditions with reference to the Holy Qur’an in the sense of collecting different manuscripts into a single volume, but it may also mean the retaining of the whole of it in memory. Taking the word in its ordinary significance, viz., collecting the different written chapters into a single volume, the tradition does not negate the existence of any number of reciters who retained the whole of the Qur’an in memory. There is no difficulty in accepting this interpretation except that when steps were taken for the collection of the Qur’an in the caliphate of Abu Bakr(ra), no collection prepared in the life- time of the Holy Prophet(saw) was brought in to facilitate the heavy task before Zaid who was chosen for collecting the scattered manuscripts of the Holy Qur’an into one volume. But the fact is that Zaid sought the manuscripts that were written in the presence and by the direction of the Holy Prophet(saw) and thus the objection vanishes. But even if the ‘collection of the Qur’an’ in the tradition under discussion is taken to mean the recitation of the entire Qur’an from memory, there is no difficulty. The meaning is made clear by another tradition which gives the circumstances under which these words were spoken by Anas. There were two rival tribes at Madinah, the Khazraj and the Aus, and Anas belonged to the former. Before the advent of Islam their relations were hostile, but on their conversion to Islam they both became one. Still the old feelings of rivalry were sometimes stirred up, and it is to one such occasion that the tradition relates. The Aus prided themselves in the possession of certain members, four in number, who had earned a good fame. As against this the Khazraj named four of their men who had collected the Holy Qur’an or who could recite the whole of it from memory. Accordingly the claim was made only against the single tribe of Aus. This conclusion is corroborated by the fact that the 58 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 The Review of Religions – February 2007 four men named all belonged to the tribe of Khazraj, and the exclusion of such famous men as Abdulla son of Masood, Salim and others from among the refugees shows clearly that the claim was advanced only for one tribe as against a rival tribe. Even if we admit for the sake of argument the existence of certain differences in the various traditions quoted above, the one conclusion upon which they all agree is absolutely certain, viz., that among the companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) there were certain persons, whether their number amounted only to four or to more than that, who retained in memory the whole of the Qur’an as taught by the Holy Prophet(saw), and who at his death had the whole of it engraved on the tablets of their hearts. Thus while every companion committed to memory a certain portion of the Holy Qur’an, certain companions committed to memory the whole of it. The entire Qur’an was, therefore, not only guarded by the comparatively few men who could recite the whole of it from memory, but the whole body of companions had the whole of it safe in their memories by every one having a certain portion. All this was done in obedience to the injunctions of the Holy Prophet(saw) who laid great stress upon the reciting of the Qur’an and the committing of it to memory. And these measures to guard the text of the Holy Qur’an were in addition to writing. It may also be pointed out here that the gradual revelation of the Qur’an afforded a facility in committing it to memory. The interval between the revelation of two verses or two chapters afforded the companions an opportunity to repeat it as often as they liked. The entire Qur’an was revealed in the long period of twenty-three years, and if Muslim boys of the age of ten or twelve years can even now commit the whole Qur’an to memory within one or two years, the Arab possessors of wonderfully retentive memories to whom the importance of the Qur’an was far greater than to any Muslim of a later age could not find it difficult to commit it to memory within the long period of twenty-three years especially 59 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 The Review of Religions – February 2007 when it was given to them gradually. The recitation of the Qur’an and its committing to memory were not, however, only optional, for the Qur’an formed a part of public as well as private prayers. Five times a day the Muslims had to pray publicly, while prayers in the latter portion of the night were of a private nature. The recitation of portions of the Holy Qur’an in all these prayers was obligatory, and thus every Muslim had of necessity to repeat certain portions of it every day. Now we know it for a fact that generally very long portions were recited in the prayers, especially in the prayers said during the latter part of the night. The Holy Prophet(saw) is himself related to have often recited the long chapters in the beginning of the Qur’an in the latter part of the night, i.e. in the tahajjud prayers. One tradition relates that he read nearly a third part of the Qur’an in a single rak’at. His companions also followed his example. Thus one companion is mentioned in an anecdote left of him to have recited the chapter entitled the ‘Cow’ which forms the twelfth part of the Qur’an in his tahajjud prayers. Even in the public prayers long chapters were recited. One tradition relates that while leading prayers, the Holy Prophet(saw) read the chapter entitled the ‘Women’ before the chapter entitled: ‘The Family of Imran.’ Now these two chapters form nearly an eighth part of the Qur’an and such a large portion read in a single prayer shows how frequently every part was in its turn recited in public prayers. There are many traditions from which it appears that such long chapters as the ‘Cow’ which forms a twelfth part of the Qur’an were read in a single rak’at in the morning prayers. The evening prayers are the least suited for the recitation of the longer chapters, but even in these the Holy Prophet(saw) recited such chapters as the ‘Tur’ or the ‘Mount’ which contains nearly fifty verses. In imitation of the Holy Prophet(saw) his followers wherever they had the occasion to lead the prayers recited very long chapters. One of them recited the second chapter, 60 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 The Review of Religions – February 2007 61 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN – PART 4 The Review of Religions – February 2007 i.e., ‘the Cow’ in the prayer of the nightfall and a complaint was made against him by one who tired by a whole days’ labour wanted to go to rest sooner. In their private prayers also the companions recited long chapters. Thus not only was it necessary that every one of them should commit the whole or a certain portion of the Holy Qur’an to memory, but the part so committed was always kept fresh in memory by constant recitation in prayers, though as we have already seen the Qur’an was frequently recited by the companions even outside prayers. Therefore, even if the Holy Qur’an had never been written, no verse could have been lost, so great was the publicity which every verse of it received and so often was it recited by the Holy Prophet(saw) and his companions in public as well as in private. One tradition relates how a certain chapter was learned by heart by a companion from its frequent recitation in the prayers. In fact, if there had been no other means of giving publicity to the Qur’an, its mere recitation in prayers was sufficient to give it such a publication as would have guarded it against every possible alteration or loss. References 1. Muir’s Life of Mahomet, Introduction, page xvi 2. This tradition as related by Abu Dawood – and it is also related by Bukhari. 3. ‘I saw the Messenger(saw) of God, may peace and blessings of God be upon him, and he was reciting the chapter entitled ‘Victory’ while on the back of his camel.’ (Bukhari) 4. See Bukhari . 5. The tradition as found in the Musnad of Darimi. 6. See Fathul Bari Vol. IX page 53. 7. Idem. 8. Vide the Sahih Bukhari, chapter Al-Qurra. 9. This tradition is narrated by Nisai and the chain of reporters through whom he received it is admitted to be trustworthy. 10. Vide the Sahih Bukhari: ‘Abu Bakr said, Omar came to me and said that death had worked vehemently among the reciters of the Qur’an in the battle of Yamama.’