Most of the major religions of the world are based on sacred books which are associated with divine revelation. People were not dependent on their memories alone to retain the knowledge and thoughts that came from these beliefs; writing, which was used to transfer information, had been invented long before. Undoubtedly, writing is more constant and everlasting that personal memory, which ends along with human life. But when examined individually, it can't be said that either of these methods of transferring information are flawless or error-free. It is for this reason that the holy Prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used both methods simultaneously and ensured that one method supported the other one.
The Qur'an was revealed over a 23 year period and based on the orders of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) was transcribed by those whom had committed it to their memories. While Prophet Muhammad directed those who believed him to write down the content of the Holy Qur'an, he clearly noted that this was divine message which was revealed to him. He didn't allow for the verses which came to him at different times and pieces to accumulate before he had them written down. Contrary to this, he would pass on the revelation right after it came to him; he wanted for believers to put the verses in writing, copy them and distribute them, in addition to memorizing them. Every time a new verse was revealed he would first gather all of the men to share them with the crowd, followed by the women. He would then order the memorizers of the revelation to write down the verses while he was present. He would also state where the verses should be placed within the entire body of revelation thus far. He would then have the written text read out loud, correcting any mistakes that were made. Bearing in mind the level of knowledge of Arabs at the time, it is not possible to admire this level of care taken in protecting the text of the Qur'an.
According to sources, every Ramadan, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would read recite the part of the Qur'an which had been revealed thus far to the Angel Gabriel (peace be upon him) [This method of recitation is called "Arza") He would repeat this recitation in front of his friends, thus those with copies of the Qur'an in their hands would compare their copies with the recitation and make corrections if necessary. The Angel Gabriel repeated this practice twice during the last Ramadan prior the death of the Prophet. (Arza Ahira) Prophet Muhammad knew that this meant he would be parting from this world soon. This comparative reading in the month of Ramadan, in our day, is called "mukabala." Thus Prophet Muhammad had made a habit out of aligning the verses and chapters of the Holy Qur'an and examining them during the month of fasting. We also know that Prophet Muhammad would lead an additional prayer in the month of Ramadan, called taraweeh, and he would divide up the verses of the Holy Qur'an so as to have read the Holy book in its entirety by the time the month was over. (This special prayer is maintained with special passion until today.)
The Qur'an being turned into a book and its copying
There was an uprising taking place at the time when Prophet Muhammad gave his last breath and during the time this uprising was being suppressed, many of those who had committed the Holy Qur'an to their memories had been martyred. Khalifa Abu Bakr decided that the Qur'an verses and chapters had to be United and turned into a book. Prophet Muhammad, during his last years of life, had decided that Zaid bin Thabit, whom he had used as his leading scrivener would be assigned to this task. Along with being one of the few hafidh -- one who had committed the entire Qur'an to his memory -- Zaid bin Thabit had also taken part in the arza akhira. The Mushaf, complete book containing the whole of the Qur'an, prior to being finalized was formed with witness for the oral recitation as well as the writing, was placed under the protection of Abu Bakr. Following this, the learning of the Holy Qur'an was encouraged throughout the Islamic state by the next Khalifa, Omar (r.a.) Omar felt the need to send authentic copies of the Holy Qur'an to different geographic centers; however, it would be Uthman (r.a.) who actually got to take on this task.
Uthman (r.a.) brought the original copy of the Qur'an, which had been compiled by Abu Bakr (r.a.) and entrusted it to a commission headed by Zaid bin Thabit. He requested that the commission make seven copies of the Qur'an in addition to authorizing an examination of the style of writing that was utilized before. He also had it read by the scholars of the Qur'an in the capital of Medina. He then had copies sent to different centers throughout the Islamic world. He also ordered the destruction of copies which did not correspond completely with this authentic text.
Today, there are thousands upon thousands of people who have committed the Holy Qur'an to their memories. And there are copies of the Qur'an in every corner of the world. It is exciting to see that there is no difference between the written texts found in the hands of people throughout the world and the text memorized by the hafidh.
The attributes of the Holy Qur'an
Here are some of the attributes of the Holy Qur'an which puts it in a loftier place and sets it apart from other divine books:
1. Firstly, some of the divine books have become misplaced completely while others have changed following many changes. However, the Holy Qur'an, along with being revealed
2. The Holy Qur'an was revealed in verses and chapters in the context of time and events, not as one unified whole. This has allowed for the Qur'an to be easily memorized and understood.
3. Despite the fact that prior divine books had been sent for a specific time period (This is the case because they had heralded the arrival of a last Messenger), there will be no book revealed after the Qur'an and the rulings of the Holy Qur'an will be valid until the Day of Judgment.
4.The other divine book was sent to a specific nation while the Holy Qur'an was sent to all of mankind. It is filled with truth and wisdom that will answer the needs of every century.
5. The Holy Qur'an is the greatest and everlasting miracle of our Prophet. It is literarily and scientifically a miraculous text that is incomparable and cannot be duplicated my mankind. It also protects is contemporary status as though it were freshly revealed, continuing to shed light on the needs of men of all eras.
The content of the Holy Qur'an
The Qur'an is book which regulates the relations between Allah, the universe and all of mankind. Because of the complexity of the relations between all of these, the matters covered by the Holy Qur'an are intertwined. This book, with this structure, is unlike the books we are used to today in terms of its content layout. In the Holy Qur'an, tales, elements of faith, social regulations, moral advice and in short every matter it covers are covered together. This is so much the case that if you want to research a topic in the Holy Qur'an, you must read this from beginning to end, in a fixated manner. Actually, utilizing this method you see the relation between the topic you are examining and with other topics, which will allow for you to discover the projection of the interplay between real life topics in the Holy Qur'an.
One of the most important features of the Holy Qur'an is that it is a book of enlightenment. For this reason, the most central topics of the Holy Qur'an are Allah's entity, attributes, actions, Allah-man and Allah-universe relations (Uluhiyya). Following these, in order, are man from history until today, the universe and life after death. All of the other topics fall under these. In this respect, the Qur'an also mentions topics that fall under the category of Science. It must not be forgotten that the scientific matters covered by the Qur'an, are ahead of our modern age, they don't lag behind it. If these scientific matters were covered in a way so as to coincide with our current understanding of matters, then it would not be a miraculous book for future generations. Thus, just as some verses were only understood only following ages, some are waiting to be discovered following the scientific level that humanity will reach in the future. Thus, the Qur'an, as a literary work, is a miracle in every age, also contains miracles that will be unraveled with each era. (It must not be forgotten that the Holy Qur'an there isn't a void regarding the understanding of verses containing rulings which affect a believer's life, but rather verses regarding the realm of existence that will be unraveled.)
The fundamental topics of the Holy Qur'an
Matters of faith: The topics that are central to the Qur'an are the existence of Allah, his unity (tawheed) and beliefs and thoughts that are in contradiction to this belief (Shirk). In addition to this, prophets and battles for tawheed, the oneness of Allah, angels and their responsibilities, divine revelation which Allah sent to be delivered to mankind and with time took the shape of book, fate -- the destiny of mankind and life after death, which encompasses all of this are all frequently mentioned in the Holy Qur'an.
Matters of worship: The actions and behaviors (worship) which a believer (Mu'min), who believes in that which is brought by the Prophets, is obligated to perform are frequently repeated in the Holy Qur'an. Prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, alms-giving, charity, repentance, remembrance of Allah, providing for the needy and supplication are among those most frequently mentioned. The Holy Qur'an encompasses many behaviors under the banner of slavery (Ubudiyya), broadening the context of this identity.
Matters of the family and societal order: The Quran covers the topics of trade, entrustment, charity, will, family life, marriage and divorce as topics that regulate the continuity of societies, providing statements and rulings on these matters. We can see rulings on individuals who don't follow and violate rules leading to a disruption of social peace and harmony in the holy Qur'an.
Moral principals: Within the content of the Qur'an are moral rulings on sincerity in faith and worship, respecting parents, getting along with people, enjoining what is good, forbidding what is evil, justice, mercy, uprightness, humility, pity for the disadvantaged, display of mercy and the spreading of love and peace. These practices are in many references tied in with belief in Allah and the Day of Judgment.
Remembering Allah and supplication: There are samples of supplication in the Holy Qur'an, as narrated by Prophets and God-fearing people, which show us how we can meet our need to seek refuge in Allah. At times Allah (s.w.t.) Himself shows us how we can face him when supplicating to him.
Tales of Prophets and nations of the past: The Qur'an shares the stories of Prophets, staring with the first man and prophet, Adam (p.b.u.h.) until the last Prophet sent to mankind, Muhammad (p.b.u.h.); the tales of their battles regarding the oneness of Allah, their relations with their societies are told in story format. The tales of the Quran are like roadmaps for the future of mankind and the summary of thousands of years. Because these events took place outside of the knowledge of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) they are considered to be proof of his prophecy.
Life after death, reward and punishment: The Holy Qur'an opens up for us within this life another world which begins with death, continues with life in the grave and questioning and ends with heaven and hell. Notably, it provides logical and emotional proof that life after death is real. The principals regarding belief, worship and morals are all tied to the belief of and experience in the afterlife in the Holy Qur'an. So much so that it is impossible to truly grasp the principals and approach to life that the Holy Qur'an brings without taking into consideration the belief of the afterlife.
Matter regarding the world of existence: The Qur'an continually points our attention to the sky, mountains, earth, ourselves and other living beings. It clearly states that Allah is the owner of the universe and everything in it and that all of that was created for mankind. It advises for mankind to contemplate on all that is in the universe which was given to his command and use it without squandering.