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The story of the Qur'an: From the lips of the Prophet to the holy book

A tired army of Islam enters the city of Medina. The army, which was returning from Yamama in order to suppress the uprising instigated by false Prophet Musailmah, is greeted with great joy in the Islamic capital. Even though the narratives regarding numbers differ, the result of the war against the insurgents whose numbers are said to be exceed in multiplicity that of the believers, is seen as a miraculous victory. This victory breaks the backbone of insurgent movements and paves the way for the Arabian Peninsula to pledge allegiance to Medina again. This is why Medina is joyous.

However, there is a companion of the Prophet who is casting a shadow on Medina's celebration with his long face: Omar bin al Khattab. Omar is shaken by news he received from messengers holding prominent positions in the army. Reports indicate that the role of courage displayed by a group of 3000 men, known as the "Khamilatul Qur'an," and the consequent turn in favor of Muslims in the Battle of Badr, was a great one. Among those who were martyred in the Battle of Yamama was Salim bin Ma'kil, the freed slave of Abu Huzaifah of the people of Suffa, whom the Prophet Muhammad described as one of the four people to learn the Qur'an from. The flag of Islam, which fell during the battle, was raised despite the objections of those around him and Salim was martyred while boosting the spririts of the Muslims, who were discouraged by the numeric superiority of the enemy.

Omar bin Al-Khattab, who was shaken by all of this news, rushed to see Abu Bakr. He would then go on to list all of those who were martyred in the last war, one by one. He would draw attention to the fact that there were those who had committed the Holy Qur'an, which had been entrusted to his followers and humanity by Prophet Muhammad, to memory.

 "The followers of the Messenger of Allah are being cast into fire as though they are luna moths. I am concerned that they will be continually cast at every opportunity there is. The Qur'an runs the risk of disappearing along with those who carry it: the people who have committed it to their memories."

While Omar (ra) continued to defend the protection of the entrustment, Abu Bakr would briefly hesitate. For he carried the concern of opposing a directive of the Prophet Muhammad. However, he could not overlook the fact that the Prophet Muhammad had the Holy Qur'an written by those around him during his health. Similarly, it is known that a stack of texts comprising the verses of the Qur'an that had been revealed thus far were given to the people of Medina during the Pact of Aqaba and that Islam had spread in Yathrib by the reading of these texts.

It wouldn't take long for the Caliph to become convinced. However, he would place the condition that people were not to rely on memory alone (in preserving the Qur'an). The written verses would be collected under the directive of the Caliph and each verse would be checked against the written documents of at least two people. Thus the texts on the materials gathered at the Masjid an-Nabawi would be checked against what had been committed to memory and whether they had been recording by reading the Qur'an with the Prophet.

There were hundreds of texts gathered at the Mosque of the Prophet, comprised of different materials. The amount of texts gathered would shock the people of that time while their composition would shock people of today. For the Arabs, a people far removed from the culture of writing, the memorization of the Qur'an throughout the years of revelation was a natural occurrence. Actually, the number of people who had committed the entire Qur'an to memory, taking into consideration the demographic structure of the time, could be said to be quite high. It is believed that among these companions, the number of women is not a percentage to be overlooked. Along with this, it is also known that the number of literate people in Arab society was quite low and the largest portion of those literate were members of the tribe of Quraish, which had more extensive contacts with the outside world. This low number should not be surprising as there are narrations that the letters of the Arab alphabet, as they are known today, were welcomed by the people of Quraish one generation before Prophet Muhammad.

At the same time, what is really interesting is that the effort directed by the Prophet Muhammad to record the Holy Qur'an, lead to the production of written texts which were sworn by at least two times for every verse. Furthermore, the narration regarding Omar embracing Islam, shares that this effort of recording the verses began from the very beginning of the period of revelation. Another important matter is the particular attention given to the differentiation to punctuation (raqsh) with letters such as "ba" and "ta" which have similar writing.

The recording effort in a society where written documents were not greatly required facilitated a muplicity which not limited to writing materials alone. The list of resources on which revelation was recorded by 40 writers of revelation, including Hafsa, the daughter of Omar is incredibly rich; the rib and collar bones of camels, tanned leather pieces, flat and wide stones, appropriate places on date tree branches especially the middle vein, pieces of pots, wood, sheepskin and rarely papyrus.

This intensive effort which began at the time of Abu Bakr (ra) was involved determining the verses which had been recorded and for all of them to be convened. Later on, following the death of Omar, the texts he left for his daughter Hafsa (ra), too, was an intensive copy of this effort.

This relentless effort aiming to combine all of the copies of the Holy Qur'an at the capital of the Islamic world, would naturally not give way for the spreading of the words of Allah from mouth to mouth, like in the past. The different readings of the Qur'an, an act which had been permitted to be read differently starting with the times of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), coupled with the distancing of the text from the homeland to which it was revealed, lead to a series of problems. The existence of societies which were newly introduced to Islam and could not quite grasp the depth and variety of Arabic, only worked to amplify this problem.

Truly, an incident which went all the way to the Caliph during the reign of Uthman (r.a.) reflected the need for action to be taken on this matter. The event, which took place between soldiers of Syrian and Iraqi descent, following an expedition in the direction of Syria, was a fight which broke out between Ubaydullah bin Ka'b and Ibn Masood due their differences in reading the Qur'an, ending in an exchange of accusing one another of being disbelievers.

This unfortunate event caused Uthman (ra) concern a committee, headed by Zayd bin Thabit, recorded a copy of the Qur'an utilizing a method similar to one employed during the reign of Abu Bakr, which was verified against the copy which was with Hafsah. The resulting text was placed in the same order as the two readings of the Qur'an by Prophet Muhammad during his last Ramadan. This copy was then reproduced and sent to the capitals of the Islamic world. With the emergence of this copy which was in accordance with the dialect of the Quraish and the texts of the writers of the Holy Qur'an, the other copies which had been printed according to different readings of the holy book, were destroyed.

This period, which shaped the physical outcome of the Holy Qur'an, must also be interpreted as the story of the sensitivity of the followers of the Prophet towards the essence of revelation, which is the Prophet Muhammad's entrustment to humanity.

 

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