Allah revealed the Holy Quran as a source of guidance for all mankind. For the more than 1.5 billion Muslims all over the world today, this is the most important book in existence. That is because we consider it to be Allah’s word, a miraculous and uncreated book that He sent down. Allah tells us at the very start of the Quran in Surah 2, Verse 2, that the Quran is a book about which there is no doubt. However, people do have doubts sometimes. In most cases, that relates to the authenticity of the Quran. This is a topic that closely relates to the compilation of the Quran.
Our Lord and Creator began to reveal the Quran to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when he was around 40 years old. The start of revelation was also the start of the era of prophethood. This process of revelation would go on for almost the rest of the Prophet (PBUH)’s life. It continued until Allah completed the message of Islam and revealed all of the Quran to the Prophet (PBUH) and the Muslims. However, the compilation of the Quran didn’t take place at this time for various reasons. That process happened at a later stage.
Throughout Islamic history, the compilation of the Quran has been a very common subject to study. However, questioning the authenticity of the Quran is a relatively new phenomenon. This is a result of the growth and spread of Islam. Many people are uncomfortable with that, and they would love to bring it to a stop somehow. Hence, they search for different ways to attack Islam and try to bring down the Quran. Thus, attacking its authenticity is one of those ways. However, pious Muslims know the truth regarding the compilation of the Quran.
The Early Stages of Revelation
Allah began the revelation of the Quran with the first five verses of Surah al-Alaq. This occurred during one of the Prophet (PBUH)’s sessions of meditation and prayer at the Cave of Mount Hira. He would retreat there for a long period since he was disillusioned with the life he was witnessing around him. Hence, our beloved Muhammad (PBUH) searched for the purpose of life and the guiding light. He would go to Mount Hira for long periods and pray for guidance while staying in the cave.
During one of these moments, Angel Jibrail (AS) came to the Prophet (PBUH) and urged him to read. Muhammad (PBUH) told him that he couldn’t do that. Upon being urged a few more times alongside some persuasive squeezing, he began to recite the revelation that Jibrail (AS) brought. It consisted of five short verses, as we can see in compilations of the Quran, but after the revelation was complete, the Prophet (PBUH) took off. The ordeal had taken a toll on him mentally and physically.
The Prophet (PBUH) begged Khadija (RA), his wife, to cover him as he narrated the story of the revelation. After getting reassurance and meeting Khadija (RA)’s cousin Waraqah, who assured him that it was a revelation from Allah, the mission began. Muhammad (PBUH) initially only told a few close contacts about the Quran. Furthermore, he didn’t know how to read or write. Hence, he didn’t compile any written version of the Quran. Neither did his companions.
What Was the Compilation Process Like Early On?
Since Allah revealed the Quran over 23 years, with 13 in Makkah and 10 in Madinah, Muslims used various methods to record the Quran. The first and foremost method was memorization. Swathes of Muslims would memorize the verses that Muhammad (PBUH) told them about. However, there was a writing process, as well. Some of the companions would write down the Quran on various things.
According to a Hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari, Zaid bin Thabit (RA) later stated (when he was making his compilation) that he collected the Quran from parchments, scapula, leafstalks, etc. Hence, we cannot doubt that the Muslims did record parts of the Quran early. Additionally, the main source that he utilized for the compilation were people’s memories. So, the most valuable resources were the written and memorized versions of Allah’s word.
Why Didn’t Compilation Happen Earlier?
Allah revealed the Quran over a period of 23 years. Hence, He didn’t reveal the Quran all at once or in the order that we read it nowadays. Instead, the Quran came down to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in accordance with the events happening at the time. Furthermore, Allah revealed verses about certain things based on particular incidents. For example, some of the Quranic stories about past prophets at a time pertained to a similar incident.
All this is due to Allah’s ultimate wisdom. Everyday Muslims won’t necessarily be able to comprehend why this happened. One of the main reasons for this method of revelation is probably because it would later assist in the compilation. That is because Muslims memorized the Quran since it came down in small sections. It was easier to memorize, and the Prophet (PBUH) could teach his people about the Quran and its meanings alongside that.
A key reason why people didn’t make complete compilations of the Quran at the time was that it simply wasn’t possible to do so. We have so many resources today at our hands, with which we can write down anything we want to. However, in 7th-century Arabia, people didn’t have easy and constant access to pen and paper. Similarly, there was no question of technology. Nowadays, we can simply write everything we need to with the usage of technology, even.
Back then, the main method of writing down things consisted of stuff like leaves and bones. That was especially applicable to the needy people of Makkah, who formed the majority of the early Muslims. Moreover, many Muslims didn’t even know how to read and write, including Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Hence, they had to make memorization the primary method, while writing was a secondary method.
Stages of Compilation
We can divide the compilation of the Quran into different stages. The first stage was the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH). Then, there was the compilation into the proper form during Abu Bakr (RA)’s Caliphate. After that, the ultimate compilation of the Quran and its spread to different parts of the Muslim state took place during the Caliphate of Uthman (RA).
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s Time
As we discussed earlier, the main method of learning was via memorization. This was a tradition among the Arabs. That was because they had a strong inclination toward poetry. Memorization and recitation were the main methods of discussion and socializing. Hence, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would memorize the passages of the Quran as Allah revealed them to him. He would then recite the passages to the companions and explain them as well.
The companions would then memorize parts of the Quran. Additionally, they would also understand the Quran because of the Prophet (PBUH)’s explanations. They would then spread the message further, and other people would learn about the Quran and its message. While this wasn’t a conventional method of compilation as such, it would go on to ensure that the Quran remained in its original form. We can say it was one of Allah’s miracles.
Plenty of reports show that it is likely that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s companions wrote down the Quran during his lifetime. When he received the revelation, then not only would he teach the recitation to the companions, but he also told them to pen the Quran down in a written form. They would record it on whatever resources they had available. Furthermore, the Prophet (PBUH) would dictate the order of the final Quran as well.
Zaid ibn Thabit (RA) was one of the most prominent scribes who would take down the Quran in the presence of the Prophet (PBUH). It was at this point when the names of the Surahs were likely stated and noted down. Additionally, Angel Jibrail (AS) would visit the Prophet (PBUH) every Ramadan and listen to him reciting the whole Quran. In the final year of his life, they went over it twice.
Abu Bakr (RA)’s Caliphate
There was one main event that caused a radical change in the compilation of the Quran during this period. After the Prophet (PBUH) passed away, Abu Bakr became the Caliph of the state. However, the transition wasn’t very smooth. A number of tribes that had peace treaties with the Muslims began to back out. They stated that their treaty was only with the Prophet (PBUH). Hence, they came up with demands such as refusing to pay Zakat, etc.
While Abu Bakr and the Muslims were busy dealing with these rebels, another enemy cropped up. This enemy would have a large say in the compilation of the Quran. He was Musailmah, the false prophet. After a lengthy campaign, this despicable enemy of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Muslims formed a huge army. Abu Bakr (RA) decided that it was time to eliminate this enemy of Allah. Hence, he sent a Muslim army to battle against his army.
The Battle of Yamama
This was the battle that would play a vital role in the compilation of the Quran. With various Muslim armies battling against the rebels, Abu Bakr sent one led by Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl. Caliph Abu Bakr told him to go and set up camp against Musailmah’s army but told him not to attack them. However, Ikrimah soon began to lose patience. He wanted to battle the enemy of Allah and destroy his army as soon as possible.
Hence, he took the step to engage with the enemy despite being told of reinforcements sent his way. He decided to start the battle before they arrived. However, this decision proved to be a poor one as he went on to lose the battle. As a result, Abu Bakr reprimanded him and sent him to another area. Then, he commanded the commander Khalid Ibn Walid to march to Yamama and destroy Musailmah.
In the meantime, another Muslim army had engaged with Musailmah but was defeated. Soon after, Khalid ibn Walid arrived at the location and launched attacks at the enemy. A fierce battle took place, and many people died. Still, the battle was in the balance after this stage. After that, the Muslims launched a second attack upon the remainder of Musailmah’s army of disbelievers and their companions.
Musailmah’s army barricaded themselves in a garden to take shelter. However, one of the Muslims scaled the wall and opened the gate. Then, the Muslims charged in and destroyed the remainder of the army. However, the reason this battle is relevant in regards to the compilation of the Quran is that more than 70 memorizers of the Quran were martyred during this battle. This led to the realization that the Quran should be compiled into one copy.
The Role of Umar bin Khattab (RA)
Umar was very saddened by the casualties the Muslims suffered during the Battle of Yamama. Additionally, he saw what others might have overlooked. He realized that there was no permanent book-form version of Allah’s Word. After the death of more than 70 huffaz, i.e., memorizers of the Quran, it was imperative that the Muslims compile the Quran. Hence, he got in touch with Abu Bakr to express his concern.
Abu Bakr was shocked to hear Umar’s proposal. At first, he refused to do it since it wasn’t something that the Prophet (PBUH) sanctioned. However, eventually, he realized that Umar had a point and that the Muslims should form a compilation of the Holy Quran to ensure that there was a permanently available copy.
Zaid bin Thabit (RA) and the Compilation of the Quran
Abu Bakr contacted Zaid bin Thabit since he was one of the scribes of the Quran. He requested him to compile the Quran into one volume. This was something completely new to the Muslims, and they had never done it before. Hence, Zaid was surprised at the request. He ever declared that it would be easier for him to shift a mountain rather than be able to take on such a huge task.
Eventually, with the will of Allah, Zaid accepted and began the momentous mission. He gathered all the written verses and surahs available. Muslims had written them on leaves, bones, etc. Furthermore, he contacted the Muslims who had memorized the Quran. He was very careful with the compilation. He confirmed and cross-checked all the verses. After this painstaking process, he compiled the Quran into a single volume, which he handed to Abu Bakr.
Uthman ibn Affan (RA)’s Caliphate
After Abu Bakr’s Caliphate, the compilation of the Quran was with Umar during his Caliphate. During this period, Islam spread far and wide, reaching places that the Muslims hadn’t been to before. Then, Uthman took over. He began to see that the Quran had spread so far and wide that people were starting to make mistakes with the Quran. Cultural and linguistic problems meant that people were distorting and mispronouncing the Quran.
Hudhaifah bin Yaman, one of the companions who had traveled far and wide during the Muslims’ conquests, noticed this and related the concerns to Uthman. Uthman immediately decided that the Muslims must make copies of the one and only authentic Holy Quran. Hence, he formulated a committee of some of the best and most capable people to carry this out. He told them that if they had any disagreements about a verse, they should opt for the language of the Quraish.
Hafsah (RA) was the custodian of the Quran during this period. Once the Muslims made the copies, they returned the main book to Hafsah. Then, Uthman took the unprecedented step of asking for the Muslims to burn all copies of the Quran. Whether they were full or partial copies, they were to be replaced by the new replicas of the original. Hence, the compilation of the Quran was finalized, and Allah’s promise to keep the Quran in its original form was fulfilled and will be, forever.
Uthman (RA) made seven copies of the Quran. Over the years, these copies of the compilation of the Quran disappeared since it’s been many centuries since these events. However, there are some museums and locations around the world where some very old versions of the Quran exist. These are reportedly from the era of the companions. Among them are copies from the eras of Uthman and Ali (RA). Furthermore, there are other very old versions of the Quran purportedly from the early age of Islam.
A museum in Makkah also contains verses of the Quran written on rocks, stones, and bones. These may be among the very earliest writings of the Noble Quran. In the 1970s, people discovered a version now known as the “Sanaa Manuscript,” which is reportedly one of the oldest versions of the Quran in existence. Radiocarbon analysis of this parchment found that it is likely to be from sometime between the years 578 and 669 CE, meaning it could well be one of the earliest Qurans.
As we can see, the Muslims went to painstaking lengths to ensure that they maintained the sanctity of the Quran. Additionally, Allah stated that He would protect and preserve the Quran for eternity. Therefore, a Muslim can have absolutely no doubt about the compilation of the Quran and its authenticity. The Prophet (PBUH) and his companions ensured that they compiled the Quran with the greatest amount of accuracy and precision. They kept it safe from corruption. Due to their efforts with the compilation of the Quran, there is no doubt that the Quran we have today is authentic and complete.