Origins of the koran

The compilation of the written Qur'an (as opposed to the recited Qur'an) spanned several decades and forms an important part of early Islamic history. Muslim accounts say it began in the year 610 when Gabriel (Arabic: جبريل, Jibrīl or جبرائيل, Jibrāʾīl) appeared to Muhammad in the cave Hira near Mecca, reciting to him the first verses of the Sura Iqra (al-`Alaq), thus beginning the revelation of the Qur'an. Throughout his life, Muhammad continued to have revelations until before his death in 632.[1] Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike disagree on whether Muhammad compiled the Qur'an during his lifetime or if this task began with the first caliph Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (632-634). Once the Qur'an was compiled, due to the unanimity of the sources, Muslims agree that the Qur'an we see today was canonized by Uthman ibn Affan (653-656). Upon the canonization of the Qur'an, Uthman ordered the burning of all personal copies of the Qur'an. The reason why Uthman gave this order is discussed further in the section below entitled "The Collection of the Qur'an". The copy of quran kept with wife of Mohammad named Hafsa was accepted for public. Until then, several copies of Quran were available in different regions of Arabia with some grammatical errors, so Uthman's order allowed only one version of Quran to exist to prevent any misinterpretation of quranic text or word of God (Allah).

Even though Uthman canonized the written Qur'an during his reign in 653-656, small diacritical variations still remained in the written Qur'an, which can be seen in the early manuscripts of the Umayyad and Abbasid Dynasties.[2]

Due to varying historical documents, controversy is seen amongst some scholars as to whether the Uthmanic codex we have before us today is authentic and complete. Most Muslim scholars believe the Uthmanic Qur'an is what was revealed to Muhammad in its entirety, while some non- Muslim scholars believe verses were removed and other codices of the Qur'an are more absolute.[3]


According to traditional Islamic beliefs, the Qur'anic revelation started one night during the month of Ramadan in 610 AD, when Muhammad, who was forty years old, received the first revelation from the angel Gabriel, who had given him the responsibility for inscribing these messages from God to give to mankind.[4]

Muslim scholars believe that prophet Muhammad was illiterate, as mentioned in the Qur'an itself,

"Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them......"Qur'an 7:157.

According to Bukhari, Aisha bint Abu Bakr (a wife of Muhammad) described that the first Qur'anic revelation occurred when the angel Gabriel visited Muhammad and asked him to recite. Muhammad responded ma aqra’u (I do not read). Gabriel pressed him “until all the strength went out of me; thereupon he released me and said: ‘Read!’” This was repeated three times and upon the third, Gabriel released him and said, “Read in the name of the Sustainer who created humankind from a clot! Read! And your Sustainer is the most Beautiful.”[5]:39–41 After this Muhammad continued sporadically over a period of twenty-three years to have revelations, until shortly before his death in 11/632.[5]:45

Muslims believe the angel brought the word of God to Muhammad verbatim, without any alteration or change. In the Qur'an, it is emphasized that Muhammad was required only to receive the sacred text and that he had no authority to change it (10.15). Even though the Muhammad had no authority to change the Qur'an, he was active in the way that he received the revelations in full consciousness, witnessing in his heart the greatness of the presence of the voice of God. The impact of receiving these revelations are described below. It is also believed that God did not make himself known through the revelations; it was his will that was revealed. There is nothing in the Quran that suggests that Muhammad saw God during his revelations.[6]

For Muhammad, the revelations were real and he believed the context was objective, but he was only able to describe the experience through metaphorical terms.[7]

When asked about the experience of revelation Muhammad reported,

“sometimes it is revealed like the ringing of a bell. This form of inspiration is the hardest of them all and then it passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says.”[5]:43

At times, it has also been reported that the experience was painful and agonizing for Muhammad. For example, Muhammad had been heard saying, “Never once did I receive a revelation without thinking that my soul had been torn away from me.”[5]:43

After Muhammad would get revelations he would memorize the Qur'an by ear, and later recite it to his companions, who also memorized it or wrote it down. Before the Qur'an was commonly available in written form, speaking it from memory prevailed as the mode of teaching it to others. The practice of memorizing whole Qur'an is still practiced among Muslims. Millions of people exist all across the world who have memorized the entire Qur'an in its original Arabic. This fact, taken in the context of 7th-century Arabia, was not an extraordinary feat. People of that time had a penchant for recited poetry and had developed their skills in memorization to a remarkable degree. Events and competitions that featured the recitation of elaborate poetry were of great interest.[8]

People questioned the nature and modes of Muhammad’s revelations. The Meccans of the time of Muhammad judged the Qur'anic revelation based on their understanding of ‘inspiration’. For them, poetry was closely connected to inspiration from a higher spiritual source. For this reason when Muhammad began preaching and reciting the Quran, the Meccans accused him of being a poet (21.5) or a ‘poet possessed’(37.36).[9]

The Collection of the Qur'an

Due to the fact that the Qur'an was revealed in disjointed verses and chapters, a point came when it needed to be gathered into a coherent whole text. There are disagreements among both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars as to when the Qur'an was compiled. Some believe Muhammad compiled it before he died, while others believe it was collected by either Ali ibn Abu Talib or Abu Bakr.


The society during the time of Muhammad was predominantly oral and for this reason he would recite verses of the Qur'an to his Companions and instruct them to memorize it. Due to this, people question whether the Qur'an was ever written and collected during the time of Muhammad. While writing was not a common skill during the Muhammad’s time, Mecca, being the commercial center, had a number of people who could write. It is believed, according to some scholars, that up to 48 scribes including Zayd ibn Thabit and Ubayy ibn Ka’b had recorded verses of the Qur'an. This provides an explanation as to how the Qur'an existed in written form during the life of Muhammad, even if it was not compiled into one text.[5]:83

Most Sunni and Shi’i scholars believe that the Qur'an was written down in its entirety at the time of Muhammad’s death. The cousin of Muhammad Ibn Abbas describes the way in which the final version of the Qur'an was fixed: “the prophet recited the book before Gabriel every year in the month of Ramadan, and in the month in which he died he recited it before him twice.”[10] It is believed that the term “reciting the Qur’an twice” means compiling all the Qur'anic revelations into a complete and final version. It is understood that toward the end of Muhammad’s life a special act of revelation occurred in which a final and complete version of the Qur'an was created. The term recite, which is used here, is referring to the custom where a Qur'anic scholar recites the entire Qur'an from beginning to end a number of times before a senior scholar. According to this tradition the act of recital is being performed by Muhammad, with angel Gabriel playing the role of superior authority.[11]

In one hadith Muhammad supposedly said, “I leave among you two things of high estimation: the Book of God and my Family.”[12] Some scholars argue that this provides evidence that the Qur'an had been collected and written during this time because it is not correct to call something al-kitab (book) when it is merely in the [people’s] memories. The word al-kitab signifies a single and united entity and does not apply to a text which is scattered and not collected.[13]

Another argument these scholars bring up is the importance that the Muhammad attached to the Qur'an. They believe that since Muhammad put so much importance to the Qur'an he had to have ordered the writing of it during his lifetime. For example, Zayd ibn Thabit reported, “We used to record the Qur’an from parchments in the presence of the Messenger of God.”[14]

Some authors support the fact that the Qur'an was not compiled as a book until the death of the Muhammad is logical. As long as he was alive, there was always the expectation of further revelation as well as occasional abrogations. Any formal collection of the material already revealed could not properly be considered a complete text.[15]

Ali ibn Abu Talib

Scholars are unanimous regarding the fact that Ali ibn Abu Talib possessed his own personal transcript of the text of the Qur'an, which he had collected himself six months after the death of the Muhammad, and that this was the first compilation of the Qur'an. The unique aspect about this version was that it had been collected in the order it was sent,[16] which mainstream Shi’ism hold is the only difference between the Qur'an we have today and Ali’s.[5]:89–90

A few Shi’i scholars argue that Ali presented his Qur'an to the community, but they refused to acknowledge his copy. One report states, “he had brought the complete Book [of God], comprising the interpretation and the revelation, the precise and ambiguous verses, the abrogating and the abrogated verses; nothing was missing from it, [not even] a letter alif, nor lam. But they did not accept it from him”[17] They also believe that Ali’s version of the Qur'an contained verses that are not seen in the Uthmanic codex we have today. They believe changes in the order of verses and suras did take place and that there were variant readings, tabdil, exchange of words such as umma to a imma, rearrangement of words and deletion of words pertaining to the right of Ali being the first caliph.[18]

Al-Khu’i, a contemporary Shi’i scholar provides a counter argument to this belief. He states that even if it is true that Ali’s Qur'an incorporated additions that are not part of the existing Qur'an, this does not mean that these additions comprised parts of the Qur'an and have been dropped from it due to alteration. Rather, these additions were interpretations or explanations of what God was saying, or were in the form of revelations from God, explaining the intention of the verses in the Qur'an. These additions were not part of the Qur'an and not part of what the Messenger of God was commanded to convey to the Muslim community.[19]

Abu Bakr

According to some scholars, during the life of Muhammad parts of the Qur'an, though written, were scattered amongst his companions, much of it as private possession. After Muhammad's death, Abu Bakr initially exercised a policy of laissez faire as well. This policy was reversed after the Battle of Yamama in 633.[20] During the battle, 700 Muslims who had memorized the Qur'an were killed. The death of Sālim, however, was most significant, as he was one of the very few who had been entrusted by Muhammad to teach the Qur'an. Consequently, upon Umar's insistence, Abu Bakr ordered the collection of the hitherto scattered pieces of the Qur'an into one copy.[21]

Zaid ibn Thabit, Muhammad's primary scribe, was assigned the duty of gathering all of the Qur'anic text. He gives an insight into what happened during the meeting between Abu Bakr, Umar, and himself:

" Abu Bakr sent for me at a time when the Yarnama battles had witnessed the martyrdom of numerous Companions. I found 'Umar bin al-Khattab with him. Abu Bakr began, Umar has just come to me and said, 'In the Yamama battles death has dealt most severely with the qurra',[Reciters of the Qur'an] and I fear it will deal with them with equal severity in other theatres of war. As a result much of the Qur'an will be gone. “ 'I am therefore of the opinion that you should command the Qur'an be collected.'" Abu Bakr continued, "I said to 'Umar, 'How can we embark on what the Prophet never did?' 'Umar replied that it was a good deed regardless, and he did not cease replying to my scruples until Allah reconciled me to the undertaking, and I became of the same mind as him. Zaid, you are young and intelligent, you used to record the revelations for the Muhammad, and we know nothing to your discredit. So pursue the Qur'an and collect it together." By Allah, had they asked me to move a mountain it could not have been weightier than what they requested of me now”. (Al-Bukhari, Sahih,Jam'i al-Qur'an, hadith no. 4986; see also Ibn Abu Dawud, al-Masahif, pp. 6-9)

His reaction to the task and its difficulties are further explained:

"...By Allah, if he (Abu Bakr) had ordered me to shift one of the mountains it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Qur'an... So I started locating the Qur'anic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leafstalks of date palms and from the memories of men.[Bukhari 6:60:201]

He also said:

"So I started looking for the Holy quran and collected it from (what was written on) palm-leaf stalks, thin white stones, and also from men who knew it by heart, until I found the last verse of Surat at-Tauba (repentance) with Abi Khuzaima al-Ansari, and I did not find it with anybody other than him. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 478).

The task required Zaid Bin Thabit to collect written copies of the Qur'an, with each verse having been validated with the oral testimony of at least two companions. Usually the written copies were verified by himself and Umar - both of whom had memorized portions of the Qur'an. Thus, eventually the entire Qur'an was collected into a single copy, but it still wasn't given any particular order.[20]

This compilation was kept by the Caliph Abu Bakr, after his death by his successor, Caliph Umar, who on his deathbed gave them to Hafsa bint Umar, his daughter and one of Muhammad's widows.[20]

Uthman ibn Affan and the canonization

The Qur'anic canon is the form of the Qur'an as recited and written in which it is religiously binding for the Muslim community. This canonical corpus is closed and fixed in the sense that nothing in the Qur'an can be changed or modified. The process of canonization ended under the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (r. 23/644–35/655), which was about twenty years after the death of the Muhammad.[22]

By the time of the caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan, there was a perceived need for the clarification of the reading of the Qur'an. The Caliphate had grown considerably, expanding into Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Iran, bringing into Islam's fold many new converts from various cultures with varying degrees of isolation.[23] These converts spoke a variety of languages but were not well learned in Arabic, and so Uthman felt it was important to standardize the written text of the Qur'an into one specific Arabic dialect. Another reason for compiling the Qur'an was that many of the Muslim Huffadh (those Muslims who had memorised the Qur'an in its entirety) were dying, especially in battle.

According to the dominant version narrated by Sahih al-Bukhari, the reason for the final collection of the Qur'an was a dispute between Muslim forces from Iraq and Syria over the correct way of reciting it during communal prayers while on an expedition to Armenia and Azerbaijan.[3]

It is believed that the general Ḥud̲h̲ayfa b. al-Yaman reported this problem to the caliph and asked him to establish a unified text. According to the history of al-Tabari, during the expedition there were 10,000 Kufan warriors, 6,000 in Azerbaijan and 4,000 at Rayy.[24] If there was disagreement amongst such a vast number of soldiers on the correct way of reciting the Qur'an, it is understandable why Ḥud̲h̲ayfa b. al-Yaman pushed for a unified text. An example of the confusion at this time is seen during a campaign in Tabaristan, where one of the soldiers asked, Ḥud̲h̲ayfa “How did the Messenger of God pray?” Ḥud̲h̲ayfa told him the soldier prayed before fighting.[25]

It is believed upon Ḥud̲h̲ayfa’s request ʿUt̲h̲mān obtained the sheets of the Qur'an from Ḥafṣa and appointed a commission consisting of Zayd b. T̲h̲ābit and three prominent Meccans, and instructed them to copy the sheets into several volumes based on the dialect of Qurays̲h̲, the main tribe of Mecca.[3]

Uthman's reaction in 653 is recorded in the following:

"So 'Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa sent it to 'Uthman. 'Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, 'Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and 'AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. 'Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue." They did so, and when they had written many copies, 'Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. 'Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Zayd bin Thabit added, "A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur'an and I used to hear Allah's Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): 'Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.'"[6:61:510]

When the task was finished ʿUt̲h̲mān kept one copy in Medina and sent others to Kūfa, Baṣra, Damascus, and, according to some accounts, Mecca, and ordered that all other variant copies of the Qur'an to be destroyed. This was done everywhere except in Kūfa, where some scholars argue that, Ibn Masʿūd and his followers refused.[3] It is also important that the compilation of the Qur'an during the time of Caliph Abu Bakr which was inherited by Caliph Umar's daughter Hafsa (and a wife of prophet Muhammad) was not destroyed but was passed back to her. This would imply that the first compilation, during the time of Abu Bakr, was not at variation with the ʿUt̲h̲mānic compilation.

It is generally accepted that the Uthmanic text comprises all 114 suras in the order known to us today.[22]

According to Khu’i there is no doubt that ‘Uthman collected the Qur'an during his time, but not in the sense that he collected the verses and suras in one volume, but in the sense that he united the Muslims on the reading of one authoritative recension. He also argues that the one reading on which ‘Uthman united the Muslims was the one in circulation among most Muslims, and that it reached them through uninterrupted transmission from the Muhammad.[26]

This is one of the most contested issues and an area where many non-Muslim and Muslim scholars often clash.[22]

Varying codices and the start of the canonization

Before Uthman canonized the Qur'an there were different versions or codices, none of which exist today. These codices never gained general approval and were viewed by Muslims as the personal copies of individuals.[5]:93 The two most influential at this time were ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd’s and Ubayy b. Kaʿb’s codices.

ʿAbd Allāh ibn Masʿūd’s codex

The most important of the varying codices, which had most influence, was ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd’s. He was an early convert who became a personal servant to Muhammad. It is reported that he learned about seventy sūras directly from Muhammad, who appointed him as one of the first teachers of Qur’an recitation. Later he was appointed to an administrative post in Kūfa by the caliph ʿUmar, where he became a leading authority on the Qur’an and ḥadīt̲h̲. Some sources suggest that Ibn Masʿūd refused to destroy his copy of the Qur’an or stop teaching it when the ʿUt̲h̲mānic codex was made official.[3]

There are two points on which Ibn Masʿūd’s version appears to differ from the ʿUt̲h̲mān’s text: the order of the sūras and some variants in the readings. It is believed that it did not contain sura Fātiḥa, the opening sura, and the mu’awwithatayni, the two short suras with which the Qur’an ends (Suras 113 and 114). Most of the other differences involve only altered vowels with the same consonantal text, which caused variations in recitation. For example, Ibn Masʿūd is said to have written kulla mā as two words rather than one in a number of places.[3]

In Kufa, many people where Ibn Mas'ud had been teaching believed that ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ud’s version was identical to the original revealed text. According to Kufan tradition, ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ud was actually present when the final version of the Qur’an was revealed to the Muhammad. In one tradition Ibn Abbas says: “The Qur’an was recited before the Muhammad every year once in the month of Ramadan, until the year in which he died. Then it was recited before him twice, in the presence of ‘Abd Allah, who witnessed the abrogrations and amendments made in it.”[27] Also, in the Kufan tradition the Muhammad is quoted as saying “Whosoever wishes to read the Qur’an pure as when it was revealed, let him read the version of Ibn Umm ‘Abd,” i.e. Ibn Mas’ud’s version.[28]

People who followed Ibn Mas’ud’s codex felt disapproval toward Zayd b. Thabit, who was considered unfit to compile and edit the Qur'an, both because he was younger than, and not as educated in, the Qur'an as Ibn Mas’ud. In one tradition, it is related that ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ud gave a sermon in which he said: “I learned from the mouth of the Prophet seventy-some suras when Zayd b. Thabit was still a youth with two sidelocks and played with the youngsters”[28] It is also important to note that Zayd b. Thabit was involved in two compilations of the Holy Qur'an, firstly during the time of Abu Bakr and secondly during the time of Caliph Uthman. However, the Kufan traditions seem to make no mention of the first compilation (under the time of Caliph Abu Bakr) which provided the basis for the second compilation by Uthman.

Ubayy ibn Kaʿb’s codex

The second most influential codex was Ubayy ibn Ka’b’s, who was a Medinan Muslim that served as a secretary for Muhammad. It is believed that he may have been more prominent as a Qur’an specialist than Ibn Masʿūd during Muḥammad's lifetime. There are reports that he was responsible for memorizing certain important revelations on legal matters, which from time to time Muhammad asked him to recite. In a few of the Hadith, Ubayy is seen in a variety of roles. For instance, the “sheets” of Ubayy are sometimes mentioned in some instances instead of those of Ḥafsa, and sometimes he is also mentioned in some hadith instead of Zayd, dictating the Qur'an to scribes.[3]

His version of the Qur'an is said to have included two short sūras not in the ʿUt̲h̲mānic and Ibn Masʿūd texts: Sūrat al-Khal, with three verses, and Sūrat al-Ḥafd, with six. The order of sūras in Ubayy's codex is said to have differed from that of Uthman's and Ibn Masʿūd's as well.,[3] although these are structural differences rather than textual variations.

Early manuscripts to the final canonical text

After Uthman had the other codices destroyed there were still variations in the reading and the text of this Qur'an. It is observed that the Uthmanic Qur'an evolved gradually textually and over a period of three centuries.

During the manuscript age, the Qur'an was the most copied Arabic text. It was believed that copying the Qur'an would bring blessings on the scribe and the owner.[29]

The Arabic script as we know it today was unknown in the Muhammad’s time (as Arabic writing styles have progressed through time) and the Qur'an was recorded in a scripta defective made up of simple lines and strokes. The method of keeping records at the time was predominantly oral. As Arab society started to evolve into using writing more regularly, writing skills evolved accordingly. Early Qur'anic Arabic lacked precision because distinguishing between consonants was impossible due to the absence of diacritical marks (a’jam). Vowelling marks (tashkil) to indicate prolongation or vowels were absent as well. Due to this there were endless possibilities in the meanings of verses and countless errors in transcription, if you were foreign to the text. The Arabic script as we know it today, the scripta plena, which has pointed texts and is fully vowelled was not perfected until the middle of the 9th century.[5]:92

Since no diacritical points or vowel signs were included, the vocalization was more or less left to the reader. Thus confusion did occur as many cultures and communities came under the control of an expanding Islamic empire and many readers were unfamiliar with Arabic. This meant that even when there was agreement on the consonants, some verbs could be read as active or passive, some nouns could be read with different case endings, and some forms could be read as either nouns or verbs. In some instances the alteration of a case ending or some other slight change in the vowelling affected the meaning significantly.[3]

Umayyad Period (44/661–132/750) – Hijazi script

The earliest known manuscripts of the Qur'an are collectively called the Hijazi script, and are mostly associated with the Umayyad period.[29]

Most of the fundamental reform to the manuscripts of the Qur'an took place under Abd al-Malik, the fifth Umayyad caliph (65/685–86/705).[29]

Under Abd al-Malik’s reign, Abu’l Aswad al-Du’ali (died 688) founded the Arabic grammar and invented the system of placing large colored dots to indicate the tashkil. The Umayyad governor al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi later enforced this system.[30]

During this time the construction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in 72/691–92 was done, which was complete with Qur'anic inscriptions. The inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock in fact represent the earliest known dated passages from the Qur'an. In these inscriptions, many letters are already provided with diacritical points.[29]

The earliest codices of the Qur'an found in the Umayyad period were most likely made in single volumes, which can be determined from the large fragments that have survived. Also during this time, the format of the codex went from being vertical to horizontal in the 8th century. It is believed this change to horizontal formats and thick/heavy-looking scripts may have been done to show the superiority of the Qur'an and to distinguish the Islamic tradition from the Jewish and Christian ones, who used vertical formats for their scriptures.[29]

During this time, there was a diversity of styles in which the Qur'an was written. One characteristic seen in most of these manuscripts is the elongated shafts of the free-standing alif and the right-sided tail (foot) of the isolated alif. Also, these manuscripts do not have headings of chapters (suras). Instead, a blank space is left at the end of one sura and at the beginning of another.[29]

Abbasid Period (132/750–640/1258)

Early Abbasid Style

Unlike the manuscripts from the Umayyad Dynasty, many of the early Abbasid manuscripts were copied in a number of volumes. This is evident from the large scripts used and the smaller number of lines per page.

The main characteristic of these scripts was their writing style. The letters in most of these manuscripts are heavy-looking, relatively short and horizontally elongated. The slanted isolated form of the alif that was present in the Umayyad period completely disappeared and was replaced by a straight shaft with a pronounced right-sided foot, set at a considerable distance from the following letter. Also, unlike the Hijazi scripts, these are often richly illuminated in gold and other colors. Another difference is that sura headings are clearly marked and enclosed in rectangular panels with marginal vignettes or palmettes protruding into the outer margins. These Qur’ans of the early Abbasid period were also bound in wooden boards, structured like a box enclosed on all sides with a movable upper cover that was fastened to the rest of the structure with leather thongs.[29]

New Abbasid Style

The New Abbasid Style (NS) began at the end of the 9th century and was used for copying the Qur'an until the 12th centuries, and maybe even as late as the 13th century. Unlike manuscripts copied in Early Abbasid scripts, NS manuscripts had vertical formats.[29]

During this time, Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi (died 786) devised a tashkil system to replace that of Abu al-Aswad. His system has been universally used since the early 11th century, and includes six diacritical marks: fatha (a), damma (u), kasra (i), sukun (vowel-less), shadda (double consonant), madda (vowel prolongation; applied to the alif).[2]

Another central figure during this time was Abū Bakr b. Mud̲j̲āhid (died 324/936). His goal was to restrict the number of reliable readings and accept only those based on a fairly uniform consonantal text. He chose seven well-known Qur'an teachers of the 2nd/8th century and declared that their readings all had divine authority, which the others lacked. He based this on the popular ḥadīt̲h̲ in which Muhammad says the Qur'an was revealed to him in “seven aḥruf”. During this time there was strong Qur'anic traditions in Kūfa, Baṣra, Medina, Damascus, and Mecca. Due to this Ibn Mud̲j̲āhid selected one reading each for Medina, Mecca, Baṣra, and Damascus—those of Nāfiʿ (died 169/785), Ibn Kat̲h̲īr (died 120/737), Abū ʿAmr (died 154/770), and IbnʿĀmir (died 118/736), respectively—and three for Kūfa, those of ʿĀṣim (died 127/744), Ḥamza (died 156/772), and al-Kisāʾī (died 189/804). His attempt to limit the number of canonical readings to seven was not acceptable to all, and there was strong support for alternative readings in most of the five cities. In the present day the most common reading that is in general use is that of Hafs’an Asim.[3]

Abu Ali Muhammad ibn Muqla (died 940), an accomplished calligrapher from Baghdad, was also a prominent figure at this time. He became vizir to three Abbasid caliphs and is credited with developing the first script to obey strict proportional rules. Ibn Muqla’s system was used in the development and standardization of the Qur'anic script, and his calligraphic work became the standard way of writing the Qur'an.[2]

This “new style” is defined by breaks and angular forms and by extreme contrasts between the thick and thin strokes. The script was initially used in administrative and legal documents, but then it replaced earlier Qur'anic scripts. It is possible that it was easier to read than the early ‘Abbasid scripts, which differ greatly from current writing. Economic factors may also have played a part because while the “new style” was being introduced, paper was also beginning to spread throughout the Muslim world, and the decrease in the price of books triggered by the introduction of this new material seems to have led to an increase in its demand. The “new style” was the last script to spread throughout the Muslim world before the introduction of printing. It remained in use until the 13th century, at which point it was restricted to titles only.[5]:177

Oldest surviving copy

Fragments from a large number of Qur'an codices were discovered in Yemen in 1972. They are now lodged in the House of Manuscript in Sana'a. Carbon-14 tests date some of the parchments to 645–690 AD.[31] However, the text itself is somewhat younger, since carbon-14 estimates the year of the death of an organism, and the process from that to the final writing on the parchment involves an unknown amount of time. Calligraphic datings have pointed to 710–715 AD.[32] It was common for parchment to be reused, older text having been shaved or washed off. This manuscript is yet to be recognised as a valid copy of the Qur'an.

One of the three Qur'ans attributed to Uthman, the Samarkand Kufic Quran is, according to Islamic tradition, preserved at Tashkent. Based on the orthography and palaeographic studies, this is unlikely as it probably dates to the 2nd century hijra or the 8th century CE, possibly as late as the beginning of the 9th century CE.[33][34] Radio-carbon dating showed a 95.4% probability of a date between 595 CE and 855 CE.[35]

The Topkapi manuscript is an early manuscript of the Quran dated to the late 1st century / early 2nd century (AH). This manuscript is kept in the Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, Turkey. It was wrongly attributed to Uthman Ibn Affan (d. 656), but judging from its illumination, the Topkapi manuscript does not date from the period (early first century AH) when the copies of the Caliph Uthman were written.[36][37]

According to the Hadith (Al-Bukhari, Vol 6, #510), four Uthmanic manuscripts were prepared after 653 AD and before Uthman's death 656 AD. Al-Kindi (died 850) wrote in the early 3rd century AH, that only the Damascus copy remained and that was currently in Malatja. Various dates have been given for when the Damascus manuscript perished, and various manuscripts at different times have claimed to be the Damascus manuscript. The last of these remaining alleged Damascus manuscripts with a traceable past was in Damascus until the fire of 1892.

There have also been large numbers of manuscripts alleged to be the Damascus manuscript—or even one of the other perished manuscripts. However, there is not sufficient evidence to prove such a link.[38]

Having studied early Qur'an manuscripts, John Gilchrist states: "The oldest manuscripts of the Quran still in existence date from not earlier than about one hundred years after Muhammad's death."[39] He comes to this conclusion by analysing the state of development of the script used in the two of the oldest manuscripts available at the time he was writing, the Samarkand and Topkapi codices. The codices are both written in the Kufic script. It "can generally be dated from the late eighth century depending on the extent of development in the character of the script in each case."[40] This technique has been criticised by other scholars, who have cited many instances of early Kufic and pre-Kufic inscriptions. The most important of these is 240m of Qur'anic inscriptions in Kufic script from the founding of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (692 AD).[41] Inscriptions on rock Hijaaze and early Kufic script may date as early as 646 AD. So based on the above evidence,[according to whom?] early Kufic scripts existed in the 7th century. The debate between the scholars has moved from one over the date origin of the script to one over the state of development of the Kufic script in the early manuscripts and in datable 7th-century inscriptions.

As for the copies that were destroyed, Islamic traditions say that Abdallah Ibn Masud, Ubay Ibn Ka'b, and Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, had preserved versions that differed in some ways from the Uthmanic text. Muslim scholars record certain of the differences between the versions; those recorded consist almost entirely of orthographic and lexical variants, or different verse counts. All three (Ibn Masud, Ubay Ibn Ka'b, and Ali) are recorded as having accepted the Uthmanic text as final, as there is no record of any of them objecting to the Uthmanic text, and even when Ali was the Caliph, he made no move to impose any changes to the Uthmanic text.

Uthman's version was written in an older Arabic script that left out most vowel markings; thus the script could be interpreted and read in various ways. This basic Uthmanic script is called the rasm; it is the basis of several traditions of oral recitation, differing in minor points. The Qur'an is always written in the Uthmanic Rasm (Rasm al Uthman). In order to fix these oral recitations and prevent any mistakes, scribes and scholars began annotating the Uthmanic rasm with various diacritical marks indicating how the word was to be pronounced. It is believed[by whom?] that this process of annotation began around 700 AD, soon after Uthman's compilation, and finished by approximately 900 AD. The Qur'an text most widely used today is based on the Rasm Uthmani (Uthmanic way of writing the Qur'an) and in the Hafs tradition of recitation, as approved by Al-Azhar University in Cairo in 1922. (For more information regarding traditions of recitations, see Qur'anic recitation, below.)

Skeptical scholars

Other secular scholars, such as John Wansbrough, Michael Cook, and Patricia Crone, were less willing to attribute the entire Qur'an to Muhammad (or Uthman), arguing that there "is no hard evidence for the existence of the Qur'an in any form before the last decade of the 7th century...[and that]...the tradition which places this rather opaque revelation in its historical context is not attested before the middle of the eighth." "There is no proof that the text of the Qur'an was collected under Uthman, since the earliest surviving copies of the complete Qur'an are centuries later than Uthman. (The oldest existing copy of the full text is from the 9th century.[42]) They contend that Islam was formed gradually over a number of centuries after the Muslim conquests, as the Islamic conquerors elaborated their beliefs in response to Jewish and Christian challenges.[43]

The Dome of the Rock with its inscriptions are interesting in the dating of the text.[44] These inscriptions in the Dome of the Rock have been known to scholars for more than a century and have repeatedly been the subject of interpretation, yet little attention has been paid to the elements from which they were composed. On the inner face of the octagon the declaration of faith is followed by conflated verses describing the powers of God. Next Muhammad is introduced, with a blessing that, though not directly quoted from the Qur'an, was clearly already in use in 694 AD. Then comes an exhortation to Christians that Jesus was also a prophet and mortal, followed by the claim that God is sufficient unto Himself. Finally comes a command to bend to His will and the threat of reckoning for those who do not.[44]

Wansbrough wrote in a dense, complex, almost hermetic style,[44] and has had much more influence on Islamic studies through his students than he has through his own writings. His students Crone and Cook co-authored a book called Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977), which was extremely controversial at the time as it challenged not only Muslim orthodoxy, but the prevailing attitudes among secular Islamic scholars.

Crone, Wansbrough, and Nevo argue that all the primary sources which exist are from 150–300 years after the events which they describe, and thus are chronologically far removed from those events[45][46][47]

The absence of contemporaneous corroborating material from the very first century of Islam has raised numerous questions as to the authenticity of the account provided by later traditionalist sources. All that is preserved from this time period are a few commemorative building inscriptions and assorted coins.[48] However, some scholars deny such a belittlement of key sources from the era. Besides the Dome of the Rock inscriptions mentioned above, there are also brief Qur'anic passages on coins issued from the time of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan from the period 697-750. These passages include, in addition to the shahadah, verses 112:1-3 (or 4) complete (except for the initial basmalah and the introductory word "say"), and part of 9:33, but with some variations: "He sent him with the guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion. . . ." In parallel to the contemporary inscriptions at the Dome of the Rock these extracts are clearly intended to declare the primacy of the new religion of Islam over Christianity, in particular.[44]

Skeptical scholars, nonetheless, point out that the earliest account of Muhammad's life by Ibn Ishaq was written about a century after Muhammad died and all later narratives by Islamic biographers contain far more details and embellishments about events which are entirely lacking in Ibn Ishaq's text.[49]

Patricia Crone, studying the origins of the Qur'an, has focused on the examination of the vast body of the Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, and Coptic accounts of non-Muslim neighbors of the 7th and 8th centuries which in many cases contradict the traditional Islamic narratives. She argues that the consistency of the non-Muslim sources spread over a large geographic area would tend to rule out a non-Muslim anti-Islamic motive to these sources.[50]

The skeptic approach has been further expanded by Christoph Luxenberg, who supports claims for a late composition of the Qur'an, and traces much of it to sources other than Muhammad. Luxenberg is known for his thesis that the Qur'an is merely a re-working of an earlier Christian text, a Syriac lectionary.[51] (See also the articles Gerd R. Puin, and Alexander the Great in the Qur'an.)

Fred Donner has argued for an early date for the collection of the Qur'an, based on his reading of the text itself. He points out that if the Qur'an had been collected over the tumultuous early centuries of Islam, with their vast conquests and expansion and bloody incidents between rivals for the caliphate, there would have been some evidence of this history in the text. However, there is nothing in the Qur'an that does not reflect what is known of the earliest Muslim community.[52]

In 1972, during the restoration of the Great Mosque of San'a in Yemen, laborers stumbled upon a "paper grave" containing tens of thousands of fragments of parchment on which verses of the Qur'an were written. Some of these fragments were believed to be the oldest Qur'anic texts yet found.

In well known Professor G.R. Hawting's academic review and in partial support of Puin's book, Hidden Origins of Islam: New Research into Its Early History,[48] Hawting says Puin refers "to some puzzling evidence that must be taken into account by anyone concerned by a period that is, indeed, in many ways obscure."[53]

The variations from the received text that he found seemed to match minor variations in sequence reported by some Islamic scholars in their descriptions of the variant Qur'ans once held by Abdallah Ibn Masud, Ubay Ibn Ka'b, and Ali, and suppressed by Uthman's order.[54][55]

Similarities to the Bible

Main article: Biblical narratives and the Qur'an

Skeptical scholars account for the many similarities between the Qur'an and the Jewish and Hebrew Scriptures by saying that Muhammad was teaching what he believed to be a universal history, as he had heard it from the Jews and Christians he had encountered in Arabia and on his travels - as well as his exposure to the Hanif tradition by way of his paternal-grandfather, Abdul Muttalib. These scholars also disagree with the Islamic belief that the whole of the Qur'an is addressed by God to humankind. They note that there are numerous passages where God is directly addressed, or mentioned in the third person, or where the narrator swears by various entities, including God.[56]


Muslims believe that Quran, as it is presented today, is complete and untouched, supported by their faith in quranic verses such as "We [ie Allah] have, without doubt, sent down the Reminder [ie the Quran]; and We will assuredly guard it [from corruption]" (Quran 15:9).

Due to the varying accounts and hadiths on the collection and canonization of the Qur'an, some scholars debate whether the 'Uthmanic text comprehends the entire body of material that was revealed to Muhammad, or if there has been material that is missing from the 'Uthmanic text. For example, some Sunni literature contains reports that suggest that some of the revelations had already been lost before the collection of the Qur'an initiated by Abu Bakr. It is reported, for example, that 'Umar was once looking for the text of a specific verse of the Qur'an on stoning as a punishment for adultery, which he remembered. Later, he discovered that the only person who had any record of that verse had been killed in the battle of Yamama and as a result the verse was lost. Later, some of the Companions recalled that same verse, one person being 'A'isha, the Muhammad's youngest wife. She is believed to have said that a sheet on which two verses, including the one on stoning, were under her bedding and that after Muhammad died, a domestic animal got into the room and gobbled up the sheet.[57]

Certain Shi’i scholars even state that Ali’s predecessors willfully excluded all references to the right of Ali to be the next caliph after the Muhammad died. A small group of early extremist Shi’i’s questioned the integrity of the Uthmani codex stating that two suras, “al-Nurayn” (The Two Lights) and “al-Walayah” (the Guardianship), which dealt with the virtues of the Muhammad’s family, were removed.[5]:89–90

Al-Khu’i addresses this issue and argues for the authenticity and completeness of the Qur'an on the basis that it was compiled during the lifetime of Muhammad. His argument is based on hadiths and on critically analyzing the situation during and after the life of Muhammad.

On the argument that verses of Ali’s rule had been removed, Al-Khu’i states that the collection of the Qur'an by Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman occurred significantly after the caliphate was decided and so if Ali’s rule had been mentioned it would have been the strongest argument for him to be the first caliph. There would have been no need for the Muslims to gather to appoint someone. (Khu’i 158) The fact that the Companions did not mention anything [about the alteration], neither at the beginning of the caliphate nor after the caliphate had fallen to ‘Ali is proof that alteration in this sense did not occur.[58]

Another, argument Al-Khu’i brings up in favor of the Qur'an is that by the time ‘Uthman became caliph, Islam had spread to such an extent that it was impossible for him, or even for anyone more powerful than him, to remove anything from the Qur'an. The value and importance the Qur'an during this time protected it from being altered.[58] In the oral culture at this time, people paid great attention to memorizing pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, it is hard to imagine that they did not pay similar attention to the preservation of the Book of the Almighty, especially since they believed they would be rewarded in the hereafter for memorizing it. Uthman could have altered the text, but he would have been unable to remove the Qur'an from the hearts of the Muslims who had memorized it.[59]

In addition, had Uthman changed the Qur'an, it would have served as the clearest argument for, and major justification of, his public assassination. His opponents would have brought this up against him, but there are no records of this. Al-Khu’i also argues that if Uthman had altered the Qur'an, Ali would have restored it to its original state upon the death of Uthman, especially if verses of his rule had been removed. Instead Ali is seen promoting the Qur'an during his reign, which is evidence that there was no alteration.[58]

See also


Further reading

  • Gibson, Dan (2011). Qur’anic Geography: A Survey and Evaluation of the Geographical References in the Qur’an with Suggested Solutions for Various Problems and Issues. Independent Scholars Press, Canada. ISBN 978-0-9733642-8-6.

External links

  • Read Quran Online
  • Dated Muslim Texts From 1-72 AH / 622-691 AD: Documentary Evidence For Early Islam Islamic Awareness
  • Several early Qur'ans: information, zoomable images British Library website
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