(Adapted from the Review of Religions, May 1907)
The primary work of the collection of the Holy Qur’an was done by the Holy Prophet(saw) himself under the guidance of Divine revelation. To this the Holy Book itself refers in the following words:
Surely upon Us rests its collection and its recital. So when We recite it, then follow thou its recital. Then upon Us rests the expounding thereof. (Ch.75:V. 18-20)
On another occasion the objection of the unbelievers as to the gradual revelation of the Holy Qur’an is met with thus:
And those who disbelieve say, ‘Why was not the Qur’an revealed to him all at once?’ We have revealed it thus that We may strengthen thy heart therewith. And We have arranged it in the best form. (Ch.25:V.33)
Here again it is asserted that “We have arranged it in the best form” was the work of Divine revelation.
These verses and the facts already mentioned go a long way to show that the primary collection of the Holy Qur’an was effected by the Holy Prophet(saw). But we have seen that such collection was needed only by those who wished to commit the whole of the Qur’an to memory and that it was in reciting the whole that the arrangement of chapters was needed. Hence though the whole Qur’an existed in a complete and arranged form in the memories of the companions, it did not exist in a single volume in a written form. [Although the whole text of the Qur’an was recited by the Holy Prophet(saw) during his lifetime – Editor] Every verse and every chapter was no doubt committed to writing as soon as it was revealed, but so long as the recipient of the Divine revelation lived, the whole could not be written in a single volume. Any verse might be revealed at any time which it was necessary to place in the middle of a chapter, and hence the very circumstances of the case made the existence of a complete volume impossible.
Hence a collection of the Qur’an in a volume was needed after the death of the Holy Prophet(saw) which should be in accordance with the collection made by the Holy Prophet(saw) as existing in the memories of his companions. Such a collection was also needed to facilitate reference to and circulation of the Holy Word and to give it a more permanent form than was secured to it in being consigned to memory. Such was the object with which the collection of the Holy Qur’an was taken in hand by Abu Bakr(ra).
A reference to the tradition which describes the circumstances necessitating the collection of the Qur’an confirms the statement made above. The account is given by Zaid bin Thabit(ra), the Holy Prophet’s(saw) amanuensis at Madinah, and it has been preserved to us in an authentic tradition recorded in the Sahih Bukhari. Soon after the death of the Holy Prophet(saw) Abu Bakr(ra) had to send an expedition against the impostor Mussailimah. A battle was fought at Yamama in which great carnage took place among the Muslims, and many of the reciters of the Holy Qur’an lost their lives.
Since the Holy Qur’an existed as a whole up to this time only in the memories of the reciters, and the written fragments had not been collected in a single volume, ‘Umar(ra) apprehended a great danger if more reciters fell in some other battle. He went straight to Abu Bakr(ra) and advised him to give immediate orders for the collection of the written portions of the Qur’an into one volume:
“Verily a great number of the reciters of the Qur’an have been slain in the battle of Yamama,” he said, “and I fear that slaughter may again wax hot among the reciters of the Qur’an in other fields of battle, and that much of the Qur’an may be lost therefrom. In my opinion it is absolutely necessary that you should give immediate orders for the collection of the Qur’an.”
But the companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) were so faithful to their master, that the doing of a thing which the Holy Prophet(saw) had not done seemed to them a departure from the path which he had shown to them:
“How can I do a thing,” replied Abu Bakr(ra), “which the Holy Prophet, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him, has not done?”
“But,” urged ‘Umar(ra), “that is the best course under the circumstances.”
Abu Bakr(ra) was convinced after some discussion and Zaid(ra) was sent for:
“Thou art,” said Abu Bakr(ra) to him when he came, “a young man and wise, against whom, no one amongst us can cast an imputation of any kind, and thou wast wont to write the revelations of the Holy Prophet(saw). Search therefore (the written portions of) the Qur’an and collect it (into one volume).’”
The first impulse of Zaid(ra) was the same as that of Abu Bakr(ra):
“How can you do a thing,” said he, “which the Holy Prophet, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him, has not done?”
And so heavy did the task appear to him that at that time he thought,
“It would not have been more difficult for me if I had been asked to remove a mountain.”
But at last he was prevailed upon, and began the search.
The tradition quoted above proves several points. Firstly, it shows that the whole of the Qur’an was safe in the memories of the reciters who had learned it in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet(saw). There was nothing to be feared so long as the reciters were safe, but if they perished in a battle, then, it was feared, certain portions of the Holy Qur’an might be lost, because the manuscripts of different chapters and verses had not been up to that time collected in one place.
Secondly, it appears from the tradition that the collection of the Qur’an undertaken in the time of Abu Bakr(ra) was meant only to supply the place of the reciters if by some mishap in a battle they were all lost. The misgivings in the mind of ‘Umar(ra) arose because he feared that as many reciters had perished in the battle of Yamama, many others might be lost in some other battle. Hence he insisted upon a collection of the Qur’an which should have nothing to fear from the death of certain persons.
From this it is clear that the original collection of the Qur’an with an arrangement of its chapters and verses was effected by the Holy Prophet(saw) himself, and ‘Umar(ra) only desired to supplement the collection of the Qur’an in memories with a collection in writing. The tradition does not allege that the Qur’an had not been collected up to that time: on the other hand, it asserts that the Qur’an was safe in memories but that a written collection was needed in view of the possible loss of the reciters in a field of battle. Memory was a good repository no doubt, but such a collection could at any time be entirely lost by the loss of those who retained the Holy Book in memory.
Thirdly, the tradition proves that up to the time when Abu Bakr(ra) took in hand the collection of the written Qur’an, no portion of it had been lost and that there were still many reciters who had it safe in their memories. ‘Umar(ra) only feared loss of portions of the Qur’an by the loss of the remaining reciters in some other battle that might ensue. It was only a contingency; certain reciters who were alive at the time at which ‘Umar(ra) was speaking might be lost in some future battle. Nothing had been lost up to the time, but something might be lost in the future if immediate steps were not taken for a collection in writing.
To sum up, the tradition shows that the entire Qur’an was safe in the memories of the reciters, that ‘Umar(ra) only desired to make a collection of the Qur’an in writing in addition to the collection existing in the memories of the reciters and that nothing had been lost from the collection existing in memories when the collection in writing was undertaken. These are three important points which settle that the collection of the Qur’anic revelations in our hands does not differ in any way from the collection existing in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet(saw), and that nothing was added to or lost from it at any time. It must also be borne in mind that the tradition which settles these points is one of the most authentic and trustworthy traditions and no one has ever questioned its truth.
We have now to explain what was meant by Abu Bakr(ra) when he said that he could not do a thing which had not been done by the Holy Prophet(saw). ‘Umar(ra)’s question related, not to the collection of the Qur’an, but to the collection of the Qur’an in writing, so that even if the reciters might perish, the Qur’an should still be safe. Now it is a fact admitted on all hands that though the complete Qur’an with a perfect arrangement of its chapters and verses existed in the safest of repositories, the memories of the companions of the Holy Prophet(saw), the different writings containing different portions of the Qur’an had never been collected together and arranged. Nor could this be done so long as the Holy Prophet(saw) was alive. For whereas it was easy for the reciters to place any verse of any chapter revealed at a subsequent time in its proper place in that chapter as pointed out by the Holy Prophet(saw), a complete volume could not admit of such a course. Hence the Holy Prophet(saw) did not order the collection of the different writings.
Now ‘Umar(ra) asked Abu Bakr(ra) to collect these writings and this was what the Holy Prophet(saw) had not done, and therefore in the first instance Abu Bakr(ra) also refused to do it. His answer only covered the ground which ‘Umar(ra)’s demand did. It shows only the scrupulousness of the companions to interfere with the Divine revelation. But ‘Umar(ra)’s case was based on strong and sound reasoning and hence he argued it with Abu Bakr(ra) until the latter was convinced of the truth of what he said. Thus there is nothing in the tradition to show that the Holy Qur’an had not been collected up to the time of the incident. It only shows that the different writings had not been collected and arranged and that the complete Qur’an was entrusted only to the memories of men.
Another point to be elucidated in the tradition quoted above is the statement of Zaid(ra) as to the great difficulty which he thought he was likely to experience in the performance of the task with which he was entrusted. Indeed he thought that it would not have been more difficult for him if he had been asked to remove a mountain. What were his difficulties? A tradition related by Ibn Abi Dawud makes it clear:
‘Umar, rose and declared that whoever had received anything directly from the Holy Prophet should bring it (to Zaid(ra)) and that they (i.e., the companions) used to write it upon papers and tablets and palm-branches in the life-time of the Holy Prophet, and nothing was accepted from anybody until two witnesses bore testimony.’ (Fath-ul-Bari, Vol. IX, page 12)
This tradition shows, and the same may be inferred from, the tradition under discussion, that the object of the collection undertaken in the time of Abu Bakr(ra) was to collect what had been written in the presence of the Holy Prophet(saw). Zaid(ra)’s collection was meant to secure the original writings and this was the great difficulty to which Zaid(ra) alluded. A great portion of the Holy Qur’an had been revealed at Makkah, and even the portion that was revealed at Madinah was not wholly in the possession of Zaid(ra). Zaid(ra) had not to search only writings, but writings which had been written in the presence of the Holy Prophet(saw).
He was chosen for the task because he had written the greater portion of the revelation at Madinah and was presumed to have all those copies safe in his custody. But the task before him was a very difficult one. He had to search all the original writings and then give them an arrangement in accordance with the arrangement of the verses and chapters as followed in the recitation of the entire Qur’an from memory in obedience to the directions given by the Holy Prophet(saw). That these writings were safe it cannot be doubted. Everything relating to Divine revelation was preserved with the utmost care. The task was no doubt an arduous one and required hard labour and diligent search, and hence Zaid(ra), with a true appreciation of the difficulties before him, said that it was equivalent to the removing of a mountain.
There are clear considerations showing that the service with which Zaid(ra) was entrusted was the collection and arrangement of the original copies of the different verses and chapters made in the presence of the Holy Prophet(saw). The object of Abu Bakr(ra) and ‘Umar(ra) was not to have a volume of the Holy Qur’an prepared by Zaid(ra) by writing down the Holy Book as recited by the reciters, but to prepare a book by collecting the original writings. Hence the first direction of Abu Bakr(ra) to Zaid(ra) was to “search the Qur’an and collect it,’’ and it is easy to see that a search had only to be made for writing.
The words of ‘Umar(ra) expressing a fear that much of the Qur’an might be lost, if the reciters fell in other fields as in that of Yamama, clearly imply that he was sure that no portion of the Holy Qur’an had been lost up to that time, and accordingly if the object of the new collection for which ‘Umar(ra) contended were simply to reduce the Qur’an to writing as recited by the experts, Abu Bakr(ra) would not have told Zaid(ra) to “search the Qur’an and collect it.” Nor would have Zaid(ra) in such a case considered the task to be as difficult as the removing of a mountain. Sufficient accuracy could have been obtained by having a few reciters gathered together and Zaid(ra) had only to write out the Holy Qur’an as dictated by them and approved by the companions. But ‘Umar(ra)’s object was to gather the original writings which had been written according to the directions of the Holy Prophet(saw) himself, and thus to make the accuracy of the text doubly certain.
And the tradition further tells us that Zaid(ra) actually followed this course. For after being convinced that Abu Bakr(ra) and ‘Umar(ra) were right, he thus describes what was done:
“Then I began to search the Qur’an and to collect it from palm-branches and tablets of stone and the hearts of men, until I found the concluding verses of the chapter entitled Repentance in the possession of Abu Khuzaima Ansari and I did not find them in the possession of anybody else.”
This shows that Zaid(ra) had two things to do: to search the writings and to collect them in a single volume. Now collection required an arrangement of verses and chapters, for the writings themselves were found in the possession of different men, and they could give no clue to the arrangement that was to be followed. It was for the sake of arrangement that Zaid(ra) had to resort to the reciters, and it is to this that the words “hearts of men” in the tradition quoted above refer. Moreover memory had also to be resorted to test the accuracy of the writings. In fact, without the help of reciters the collection of the writings in the form of a complete volume was not possible. It was for this reason that ‘Umar(ra) urged that the collection should be commenced whilst a large number of reciters was still alive, and it is for this reason that Zaid(ra) mentions that in collecting the writings he had to resort to memory, or “the hearts of men” as he puts it. The words do not indicate that he sought for some chapters from writings and for others from memory, for if he limited his enquiry to memory in the case of one part of the revelation, he had no need to search for writings for the rest, and the whole could have been easily written down from the dictation of the reciters.
The most important question with regard to the collection made under the orders of Abu Bakr(ra) is, did it accord in every respect with the Qur’an as stored and collected in the memories of the companions, and as repeated and recited, publicly as well as privately, in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet(saw)? There is not the least reason to believe that it did not. In the first place, none of the compilers was actuated by any motive to make any change in the text. The earnest desire of all those engaged in the task was to have a complete and faithful reproduction of what had been revealed to the Holy Prophet(saw), and Zaid(ra) had only undertaken the task after a full appreciation of the difficulties.
Secondly, the collection began only six months after the death of the Holy Prophet(saw) while almost all of those who had heard the Qur’an from the lips of the Holy Prophet(saw) were still alive. The Qur’an as recited by the Holy Prophet(saw) was still fresh in the memories of the companions, and any tampering with the text could have been easily brought to notice.
Thirdly, we find the companions so cautious even in reporting the words of the Holy Prophet(saw) that we cannot imagine that they could tamper with the Divine revelation only six months after his death. They held the Divine word in such great awe and reverence that it is impossible they should have fabricated a word or sanctioned the omission of any part of the Holy Book.
Fourthly, as we have already seen, there were many among them who could repeat the whole of the Qur’an from memory. There were others who knew large portions, and these were kept fresh in memory by constant recitation in and outside prayers. It was impossible that any variation from the text as prevalent in the time of the Holy Prophet(saw) could have found its way into the collection in the presence of such men.
Fifthly, there were many transcripts of the revelation current among the companions. And since every verse was written at the time of its revelation and copies of it were then made by the companions, there were ample means for testing the accuracy of the collection of Zaid(ra). These writings were in the possession of different companions and so they all had a chance to see for themselves that the collection made by Zaid(ra) was a faithful copy of the original writings. Moreover, the writings in the possession of one man could be compared with those in the possession of another, and thus, as in the case of recitation, there was no probability of any error creeping into the text. Memory and writing corroborated the already unimpeachable testimony afforded by each other and thus placed beyond the shadow of a doubt the accuracy of the text of the Holy Qur’an.
Sixthly, there is no mention at all in any tradition whatever that anything was left out of the collection made under the orders of Abu Bakr(ra) or that anything had been added to it which was not considered to be part of the Divine revelation. As Sir William Muir says,
“We hear of no fragments, sentences, or words omitted by the compilers, nor of any that differed from the received edition. Any such would undoubtedly have been preserved and noticed in those traditional repositories which treasured up the minutest and most trivial acts and sayings of the Prophet.”
Thus there are strong and conclusive arguments showing that the copy made from the transcripts under the orders of Abu Bakr(ra) agreed in every way, in text as well as in arrangement, with the collection made under the directions of the Holy Prophet(saw) himself and preserved in memory by the reciters. Unless there had been a complete agreement in the text as received through the two sources, memory and writing, the companions could never have been satisfied with the collection. The copy thus made remained, we are told, in the possession of Abu Bakr(ra) and after his death in that of ‘Umar(ra). After the latter’s death, the copy was transferred to the custody of Hafsa(ra), the daughter of ‘Umar(ra) and a widow of the Holy Prophet(saw). Thus the copy of the Holy Qur’an transcribed by the orders of Abu Bakr(ra) came down to the reign of ‘Uthman(ra) without any alteration in its text or arrangement.
It is highly probable that copies were made from this collection by those who needed them, and thus it was sufficiently circulated. But some circumstances coming to the notice of ‘Uthman(ra), he deemed it necessary to circulate official copies transcribed by official scribes and suppress all those made by private persons either from the collection of Zaid(ra) or other writings still prevalent among them. An authentic tradition reported by Bukhari thus describes the circumstances:
“Anas, son of Malik relates that there came to ‘Uthman, Huzaifa who had been fighting with the people of Syria in the conquest of Armenia and with the people of Iraq in Azerbaijan, and who was alarmed at their variations in their modes of reading. He said to ‘Uthman, ‘O Commander of the Faithful! Stop the people before they differ in the Holy Book as the Jews and the Christians differ in their Scriptures. So ‘Uthman sent word to Hafsa asking her to send him the Qur’an in her possession so that they might make other copies of it and then send the original copy back to her. Thereupon Hafsa sent the copy to ‘Uthman, and he ordered Zaid bin Thabit and ‘Abdullah bin Zubair and Sa‘id bin-il-‘As and ‘Abdul Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham, and they made copies from the original copy. ‘Uthman also said to the three men who belonged to the Quraish, (Zaid only being a Madinite), ‘When you differ with Zaid in anything concerning the Qur’an, then write it in the language of the Quraish, for it is in their language that it was revealed.’ They obeyed these instructions and when they had made the required number of copies from the original copy, ‘Uthman returned the original to Hafsa, and sent to every quarter one of the copies thus made, and ordered all other copies or leaves on which the Qur’an was written to be burned.”
The tradition states clearly the circumstances which led ‘Uthman(ra) to destroy all private copies and substitute in their place official copies transcribed from the collection of Zaid(ra) made in the time of Abu Bakr(ra). The Caliph was told by one of his generals who had been fighting in Armenia and Azerbaijan that there were variations in the modes of reading the Qur’an in such distant parts of the kingdom as Syria and Armenia. No such differences are pointed out to have existed at Madinah or Makkah or anywhere within Arabia. It was only in newly converted countries where Arabic was not spoken that these differences were noticed. As to the nature of these differences, it is stated in clear words that they were only differences in Qira’at or the modes of reading. Nor were they of such a serious nature as those existing among the Jews and the Christians with regard to their Scriptures, but it was feared that if nothing was done to put a stop to the slighter differences existing at that time, they might after the lapse of a few generations, develop into more serious differences.
What the differences exactly were it is difficult for us to say, but a reference to earlier anecdotes casts some further light upon the nature of these differences. We are told in authentic traditions that different modes of reading certain words were allowed by the Holy Prophet(saw) himself, and the companions unacquainted with the permission at first severely took to task anybody whom they heard reading any word of the Holy Qur’an in a different method. Thus ‘Umar(ra) on one occasion heard Hisham(ra) pronouncing certain words of the Qur’an in a different method, and in great wrath dragged him to the presence of the Holy Prophet(saw) who approved Hisham’s reading. The reason for this permission was that people belonging to certain tribes could not pronounce certain words in the ordinary way. These people were allowed to read them in the manner in which they could easily pronounce them. But I do not wish to enter into details here as the subject of the various readings I intend to discuss under a separate heading.
From what I have stated above, it will be seen that the permission to read any word in a different method was based on a necessity. The permission could be availed of only by those who on account of their being accustomed from their very childhood to pronounce certain words in a certain manner could not pronounce them in the pure dialect of the Quraish. But when Islam spread beyond Arabia, the need to read certain words in a different method disappeared, for the foreigners could pronounce a word in the dialect of Quraish with the same facility as in any other dialect. Some of the companions however still taught the Qur’an adhering to certain readings which were not in accordance with the pure language of the Quraish. Some of them may have even abused the permission and favoured certain readings though they had no need for them.
This evil seems to have spread at Kufa and it was to this that Huzaifa (in the tradition quoted above) referred when he was alarmed at the variation in the readings. According to certain traditions he strongly reproved those who took to peculiar readings, some saying that they followed the reading of Ibn Mas‘ood, others that of Abu Musa and others still of Ubayy ibn Ka‘b, whereas they could without any difficulty recite the Qur’an according to the original reading, that is, in the dialect of Quraish. This conclusion is corroborated by an anecdote relating to a period earlier than the time of ‘Uthman(ra). ‘Umar(ra) was told that Ibn Mas‘ood read atta heen instead of hatta heen. Now in the dialect of the Huzail and the Thiqqeef hatta was pronounced atta. Ibn Mas‘ood did not belong to either of these tribes but he favoured a peculiar reading which had been permitted only because people belonging to certain tribes could not utter the word otherwise. When ‘Umar(ra) was told that Ibn Mas‘ood taught atta instead of hatta, the caliph wrote to him that the Qur’an was revealed in the language of the Quraish and that he should not read it in the dialect of the Huzail. The words of ‘Umar(ra) as given in the tradition are:
“Verily the Qur’an was revealed in the language of the Quraish and not in the dialect of the Huzail, so teach it thou to the people in the language of the Quraish and not in that of the Huzail.”
Another evil that had sprung out of these variations in readings was that the new converts, unable to realise the need for which they had been permitted, began to attribute heresy to one another for a difference in the reading of certain words. It was this evil which made Huzaifa(ra) and ‘Uthman(ra) have great apprehensions as many traditions show, and the only remedy for it was that the variations for which there remained no need now should be entirely suppressed in reading as well as in writing and that the pure language of the Quraish in which the Qur’an had been revealed should be used by all.
The considerations and the anecdotes given above help us to understand the nature of the differences and the evil at which Huzaifa(ra) was alarmed, and to remove which was the object of ‘Uthman(ra) in destroying all private copies of the Qur’an. The instructions which ‘Uthman(ra) gave to the syndicate of the scribes further supports this conclusion. To the members of the committee who belonged to the tribes of the Quraish he gave the direction in plain words:
“When you differ with Zaid(ra) in anything concerning the Qur’an, then write it in the language of the Quraish, for it is in their language that it was revealed.”
This direction we are told was obeyed. ‘Uthman(ra) then went no further than ‘Umar(ra). Only the variations of readings became more pronounced in his time and became the source of much evil and he took a step which was calculated to wipe off once and for all those variations which ‘Umar(ra) also wanted to put a stop to.
It may be asked what was meant by differing with Zaid(ra) in anything concerning the Qur’an. In another tradition also related by Bukhari instead of “when you differ with Zaid(ra) in anything concerning the Qur’an,” we have the words, “when you differ with Zaid(ra) in an ‘Arabiyyat in the ‘Arabiyyat of the Qur’an,” the word Arabiyyat signifying the Arabic language. The word clearly implies that by difference in the tradition is meant difference in the method of pronouncing a word in different dialects. Zaid(ra) did not belong to the tribe of the Quraish and hence where there was a difference in the manner of reading or writing a word, the decision of the Quraish members was to be accepted. The only example of the difference alluded to has been preserved to us in a tradition. On the authority of Ibn Shahab, the same narrator as in Bukhari’s tradition, Tirmidhi adds the following anecdote to the tradition accepted and narrated by Bukhari:
“And they differed on that occasion as to tabut and tabuh. The Quraish members said that it was tabut and Zaid(ra) said that it was (tabuh). The difference was reported to ‘Uthman(ra) and he directed them to write it (tabut) adding that the Qur’an “was revealed in the dialect of the Quraish.”
This anecdote illustrates the nature of the differences at which Huzaifa was alarmed. It shows that the differences whose removal was aimed at by ‘Uthman(ra) were not ordinarily more serious than this. But since the companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) believed every word to proceed from a Divine source, they could not tolerate even such slight differences. And since the need for which such variations in the reading of certain words were permitted ceased to exist with the flux of large numbers of foreigners into the holy religion of Islam, ‘Uthman(ra) thought it expedient to put a stop to all variations by circulating copies of the Holy Qur’an transcribed and superintended by competent men under his own orders and suppressing all private copies which contained such variations.
Did the copies transcribed under the orders of ‘Uthman(ra) differ from the original collection made by Zaid(ra) in the time of Abu Bakr(ra)? The tradition quoted above tells us that when variations of readings in the distant parts of the kingdom were brought to the notice of ‘Uthman(ra), the first idea to which he gave expression was to obtain the copy in the possession of Hafsa and to have other copies transcribed from it for circulation among the Muslims. And from this intention he made no departure. The copies of the Qur’an transcribed under his orders were true and faithful copies of the collection of Zaid(ra) which as we have seen was in the custody of Hafsa after the death of ‘Umar(ra). It was Zaid(ra) who transcribed the copy in the time of Abu Bakr(ra) and it was Zaid(ra) who was called upon to make fresh copies from it in the time of ‘Uthman(ra). To remove any difference of dialect or variation in the mode of reading certain words that might possibly arise, ‘Uthman(ra) gave, no doubt, the orders that the reading of the Quraish should be adopted in preference to any other reading.
But the only example of such variations that has been preserved to us in tradition is, if the anecodate be true, that Zaid(ra) read a word as tabuh, and the Quraish read it as tabut, and such importance was given to this trifling difference that the matter was reported to ‘Uthman(ra) for decision. There is no mention at all of any other departure having been made from the writing of Zaid(ra) in the copy of Hafsa. Hence we have conclusive testimony in our hands showing that the copies of the Qur’an made and circulated under the orders of ‘Uthman(ra) were exact and faithful copies of the original collection of Zaid(ra). Again the message of ‘Uthman (ra) to Hafsa was: “Send us the copy of Qur’an that we may make copies from it and then we will return it to you.’’
In accordance with this, the copy of Hafsa was returned after the requisite number of copies had been made. Had there been any difference between the original and the copies made, it would no doubt have come to light in the long reign of ‘Uthman (ra) or in that of ‘Ali(ra) when the Muslims had been divided into factions and that copy was still in the possession of Hafsa. The men who murdered in cold blood the aged and venerable prince could not have failed to bring to light any difference that might have existed between the copy of Hafsa and the copies made by him. But there is nothing on record to show that any such difference really existed, and this evidence further corroborates the conclusion that the copies made by ‘Uthman(ra) were true and faithful copies of the original collection made by Zaid(ra) in the time of Abu Bakr(ra).
Had the action of ‘Uthman (ra) in destroying all private copies of the Holy Qur’an been arbitrary or unjustifiable, the companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) would never have yielded to it. But it appears that they not only approved of his action, but also assisted him with willingness in the execution of his designs. Huzaifa(ra), one of the learned companions, had come to him in all haste from distant Syria to request him that he should take immediate steps to put a stop to variations in readings, and this he could not do except by issuing official copies of the Holy Qur’an as collected by Abu Bakr(ra) and suppressing all private copies which were perhaps not made with sufficient care and contained any variation of reading.
Nor did ‘Uthman (ra) take this step without consulting the companions. According to a report narrated by Ibn Abi Dawud through a chain of narrators which has been admitted as trustworthy (See Fath-ul-Bari, Vol IX, p. 16.) ‘Ali(ra) said:
“Do not say aught of ‘Uthman(ra) but what is good, for he did not take the step with regard to the suppression of the private copies of the Qur’an except after consultation with us. He spoke to us saying, ‘what do you think about this reading. I have been informed that some of them say to others, my reading is better than thine. This I think may amount to unbelief.’ We asked him what step he thought it advisable to take in this matter. He replied that he thought it necessary to gather people on one reading. To this we all heartily agreed.”
This anecdote shows that it was after consultation with the general body of the companions that ‘Uthman(ra) took any step.
There are said to have been twelve members in the syndicate which superintended transcription of copies. Among these were Zaid(ra), Sa‘id(ra), Ubbay(ra), Anas bin Malik(ra), ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas(ra) and others. It appears that originally there were four members only as the tradition in Bukhari tells us, but that others were added later on, perhaps because a larger number of copies than that imagined at first was required. ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ood(ra) was the only companion noted for his learning of the Qur’an who was not included in the committee, but his exclusion was not due to any prejudice against him, but to his residence at a considerable distance from Madinah. ‘Abdullah lived at Kufa, and much delay would have been caused in the progress of the work if he had been included in the committee. And as ‘Uthman(ra) began his work after due consultation with the general body of the companions, they approved of his action after its completion.
According to a report Mus‘ab bin Sa‘d said that he met many companions when ‘Uthman(ra) gave orders for burning all private copies of the Qur’an and they were all pleased with it and none of them took objection to it. In fact, Hadhrat ‘Uthman’s apprehensions and those of the companions were not due, as the words of ‘Ali(ra) reported in the above tradition show, so much to the existence of variations in readings as to the differences resulting from these variations. Those who had newly entered into Islam were unaware of the circumstances as a result of which the Holy Prophet(saw) permitted certain variations in readings, and adopting the reading of a particular companion they were severe upon others who adopted a different reading, and thus the slight variations in the mode of reading certain words began to lead to great quarrels and controversies. Hadhrat ‘Uthman(ra) and the other companions saw that the people were falling into errors and making a wide departure from what the Holy Prophet(saw) intended to be the use of variations and they adopted the best way of remedying the evil.
Ibn Mas‘ood, for the reason stated above, could not take any part in the supervision of the transcription of copies made under the orders of ‘Uthman(ra) and he is the only person who in some traditions, by no means of the highest authority, is said to have made certain remarks against Zaid(ra). For instance, he is reported to have disliked the appointment of Zaid(ra) for transcribing the copies and to have remarked:
“What! The transcription of the Qur’an is taken away from me and it is entrusted to a man who was in the back of an unbeliever when I was a Muslim.” (referring to his older age and priority in the acceptance of Islam).
Either this tradition is not true or Ibn Mas‘ood, if he actually uttered these words, [he] made a grievous error. Zaid(ra) was the person who had collected and transcribed the Qur’an in the time of Abu Bakr(ra). Abu Bakr(ra) and ‘Umar(ra) could not think of a better man than Zaid(ra) and they entrusted to him the task of collection. When ‘Uthman(ra) felt a similar need, he enquired of the companions as to who was best fitted for the task and who excelled others in the art of writing, and he was told that Zaid(ra) was the man. This was the reason for his selection of Zaid(ra) to do the work of transcribing and with him was joined a syndicate of several other companions to supervise the work, and it was in accordance with their directions that he transcribed the copies.
Ibn Mas‘ood was not, therefore, in the right in speaking of Zaid(ra) in disparaging terms if he spoke those words. But we may entertain grave doubts as to his having spoken them, for on the earlier occasion when more important work was done than mere transcription, Ibn Mas‘ood never spoke a word against Zaid(ra). The remarks which he is said to have made would have been more appropriate if they had been uttered at the time when Zaid(ra) was entrusted by Abu Bakr(ra) and ‘Umar(ra) with the work of collecting the Holy Qur’an from writings in manuscripts. It is strange that such remarks should have been made when nothing had to be done except transcription from an earlier original. But if the tradition be true, then its concluding words are sufficient to show that Ibn Mas‘ood was really in error for we are told that “the most eminent companions disliked this remark of Ibn Mas‘ood.” Moreover according to this tradition, Ibn Mas‘ood did not find any fault with ‘Uthman(ra).
There are certain traditions of very doubtful authenticity which assert that Ibn Mas‘ood had really refused to give up his copy of the Qur’an or to accept that sent by ‘Uthman(ra), but these traditions have not been accepted by any reliable collector of traditions. Even supposing them, for the sake of argument, to be authentic, they do not throw any discredit upon the copies made under the orders of ‘Uthman(ra). Ibn Mas‘ood read certain words, we are told, in a manner different from that in which the Quraish read it, and even ‘Umar(ra) had enjoined him to give up such readings. On that ground he may have refused to give his copy, but not a single other companion ever supported his views. They were free to express what view they liked, but they all without any exception sided with ‘Uthman(ra).
These considerations would leave no doubt in the mind of a person enquiring after truth that the copies circulated by ‘Uthman(ra) were true and faithful copies of the collection of Abu Bakr(ra) which again agreed in every word and point with the Qur’an as taught by the Holy Prophet(saw). When ‘Uthman(ra) issued his copies, thousands of the companions were still living, and many of these such as Ubayy(ra), ‘Abdullah son of ‘Umar(ra) and others were among the men who had committed to memory the whole of the Qur’an in the life-time of the Holy Prophet(saw), while hundreds of others might have learnt it by heart after his death as it was then in circulation. It was only thirteen years after the death of the Holy Prophet(saw) that ‘Uthman(ra) had given orders for making official copies of the Holy Qur’an, and if these had in any way differed from the original copy or from what had been preserved in memory, the companions would certainly have raised their voices against such maltreatment of the Holy Book. The Qur’an was still their most precious treasure and they could not suffer a word of it to be changed. They would have sooner given up their lives than permitted a tampering with the Qur’an.
They were not only sincere and earnest in their professions, but they had also ample means to judge the correctness of the copies made under the orders of ‘Uthman(ra). Anything left out from the Qur’an or anything added to it would have been at once pointed out by hundreds of the companions. But even Ibn Mas‘ood, with all the ill-will which he bore against ‘Uthman(ra) and Zaid(ra), never pointed out a single word that had been altered by ‘Uthman(ra) or left out from the Qur’an or added to it. He only remonstrated that he should be allowed to retain his peculiar reading of certain words, an example of which has been given in the word hatta which he pronounced atta, following the dialect of the Huzail.
‘Uthman(ra) then made no alteration in the Qur’an as it was collected by Abu Bakr(ra) immediately after the death of the Holy Prophet(saw). He employed the same scribe that was employed before him by Abu Bakr(ra) and in his lifetime by the Holy Prophet(saw) himself. He acted after consultation with the companions and secured the services of the most eminent companions noted for their learning of the Qur’an to superintend the work of transcription. The copies made by his orders were recognised as true copies by the whole Muslim world. Nor could any alteration in the copies alter the text as preserved in the memories of thousands of men. The bitterest foes of ‘Uthman(ra), those who cut off his head while he was reading the Qur’an and who had the whole power in their hands, never charged him with having tampered with the Qur’an, though ordering the burning of the copies of the Holy Book was one of their charges against him. But this latter charge was advanced because the act of burning papers on which the Holy Word was written was considered sacrilegious. Even during the reign of ‘Ali(ra) no one pointed out a word which had been omitted by ‘Uthman(ra), and ‘Ali(ra) is himself stated to have transcribed copies of the Qur’an from the official copies circulated by ‘Uthman(ra).
As regards the copies in our hands, it is admitted by the bitterest enemies of Islam that the copies made by ‘Uthman(ra) have been handed down to later generations entirely unaltered. The purity of the text of the Qur’an is thus conclusively demonstrated. The collection of Abu Bakr(ra) was a faithful reproduction of the revelation as reduced to writing in the presence of the Holy Prophet(saw) and agreed every whit, in text as well as in arrangement, with the Holy Qur’an as preserved in the memories of the companions; the copies circulated by ‘Uthman(ra) were true and faithful copies of Abu Bakr(ra)’s collection, and these copies have admittedly remained unaltered through the thirteen hundred years that have elapsed.