The Collation of the Qur’an

Excerpted from "Dictionary of Islam" by Thomas Patrick Hughes © 1886

See also
The Division of the Qur'an
The Interpretation of the Qur'an
The Inspiration of the Qur'an
The Opinions of European Writers on the Qur'an

The whole book was not arranged until after Muhammad's death, but it is believed that the Prophet himself divided the Surahs and gave most of them their present titles, which are chosen from some word which occurs in the chapter. The following is the account of the collection and arrangement of the Qur'an, as it stands at present, as given in traditions recorded by al-Bukhari (see Sahihu’I-Bukhari, Arabic ed., p. 745.) 

"Zaid ibn Sabit relates:- ‘Abu Bakr sent a person to me, and called me to him, at the time of the battle with the people of Yamamah; and I went to him, and 'Umar was with him; and Abu Bakr said to me,”’Umar came to me and said,' Verily a great many of the readers of the Qur'an were slain on the day of the battle with the people of Yamimah; and really I am afraid that if the slaughter should be great, much will be lost from the Qur’an, because every person remembers something of it; and, verily, I see it advisable for you to order the Qur'an to be collected into one book.' I said to 'Umar, 'How can I do a thing which the Prophet has not done?' 

     He said, 'I swear by God, this collecting of the Qur'an is a good thing. And 'Umar used to be constantly returning to me and saying: 'You must collect the Qur'an,' till at length God opened my breast so to do, and I saw what 'Umar had been advising.' 

     And Zaid ibn Sabit says that, 'Abu Bakr said to me, "You are a young and sensible man, and I do not suspect you of forgetfulness, negligence, or perfidy; and, verily, you used to write for the Prophet his instructions from above; then look for the Qur'an in every place and collect it.' 

     I said, “I swear by God, that if people had ordered me to carry a mountain about from one place to another, it would not be heavier upon me than the order which Abu Bakr has given for collecting the Qur'an." 

     I said to Abu Bakr, “How do you do a thing which the Prophet of God did not?” He said, "By God, this collecting of the Qur'an is a good act." And he used perpetually to return to me, until God put it into my heart to do the thing which the heart of Abu Bakr had been set upon. Then I sought for the Qur'an, and collected it from the leaves of the date, and white stones, and the breasts of people that remembered it, till I found the last part of the chapter entitled Tauba (Repentance), with Abu Khuzaimah al-Ansari, and with no other person. 

       These leaves were in the possession of Abu Bakr, until God caused him to die; after which 'Umar had them in his lifetime; after that, they remained with his daughter, Hafsah; after that, 'Usman compiled them into one book.' 

"Anas ibn Malik relates: 'Huzaifah came to 'Usman, and he had fought with the people of Syria in the conquest of Armenia; and had fought in Azurbaijan, with the people of al-'Iraq, and he was shocked at the different ways of people reading the Qur'an. And Huzaifah said to 'Usman, "O 'Usman, assist this people, before they differ in the Book of God, just as the Jews and Christians differ in their books." 

     Then 'Usman sent a person to Hafsah, ordering her to send those portions which she had, and saying, "I shall have a number of copies of them taken, and will then return them to you." And Hafsah sent the portions to 'Usman, and 'Usman ordered Zaid ibn Sabit, Ansari, and Abdu'llah ibn az-Zubair, and Sa'id ibn Al'as, and 'Abdu 'r-Rahman ibn al-Haris ibn Hisham; and these were all of the Quraish tribe, except Zaid ibn Sabit and 'Usman. 

     And he said to the three Quraishites, "When you and Zaid ibn-Sabit differ about any part of the dialect of the Qur'an, then do ye write it in the Quraish dialect, because it came not down in the language of any tribe but theirs." 

      Then they did as 'Usman had ordered; and when a number of copies had been taken, 'Usman returned the leaves to Hafsah. And 'Usman sent a copy to every quarter of the countries of Islam, and ordered all other leaves to be burnt, and Ibn Shahab said, “Kharijah, son of Zaid ibn Sabit, informed me, saying, 'I could not find one verse when I was writing the Qur'an, which, verily, I heard from the Prophet; then I looked for it, and found it with Khuzaimah, and entered it into the Siratu 'l- Ahzab.' " 

This recension of the Qur'an produced by the Khalifah 'Usman has been handed down to us unaltered; and there is probably no other book in the world which has remained twelve centuries with so pure a text. 

Sir William Muir remarks in his Life of Mahomet :- 
"The original copy of the first edition was obtained from Haphsa's (Hafsah) depository, and a careful recension of the whole set on foot. In case of difference between Zaid and his co-adjutors, the voice of the latter, as demonstrative of the Coreishite idiom, was to preponderate; and the new collation was thus assimilated to the Meccan dialect, in which the Prophet had given utterance to his inspiration. Transcripts were multiplied and forwarded to the chief cities in the empire, and the previously existing copies were all, by the Caliph's command, committed to the flames. The old original was returned to Haphsa's custody. 
“The recension of Othman ('Usman) has been handed down to us unaltered, So care- fully, indeed, has it been preserved, that there are no variations of importance,- we might almost say no variations at all, amongst the innumerable copies of the Qur'an scattered throughout the vast bound of the empire of Islam. 

"Contending and embittered factions, taking their rise in the murder of Othman himself within a quarter of a century from the death of Mahomet, have ever since rent the Maho- metan world. Yet but one Qur'an has been current amongst them; and the consentaneous use by them all in every age up to the present day of the same Scripture, is an irrefragable proof that we have now before us the very text prepared by command of the unfortunate Caliph. There is probably in the world no other work which has remained twelve centuries with so pure a text, The various readings are wonderfully few in number, and are chiefly confined to difference in the vowel points and diacritical signs. But these marks were invented at a later date,  “They did not exist at all in the early copies, and can hardly be said to affect the text of Othman. Since, then, we possess the undoubted text of Othman's recension, it 
remains to be inquired whether that text was an honest reproduction of Abu Bakr's edition, with the simple reconcilement of unimportant variations. 

There is the fullest ground for believing that it was so. No early or trustworthy traditions throw suspicion of tampering with the Qur'an in order to support his own claims upon Othman. The Sheeahs (Shi'ahs) of later times, indeed, pretend that Othman left out certain Suras or passages which favoured Ali. But this is incredible. He could not possibly have done so without it being observed at the time; and it cannot be imagined that Ali and his followers (not to mention the whole body of the Mussulmans who fondly regarded the Qur'an as the word of God, would have permitted such a proceeding. Second: On the other hand, Ali, from the very commencement of Othman's reign, had an influential party of adherents, strong enough in the end to depose the Caliph, to storm his palace in the heart of Medina, and to put an end to his life. Can we conceive that these men would have remained quiet, when the very evidence of their leader's superior claims was being openly expunged from the book of God. 

Third: At the time of the recension, there were still multitudes alive who had the Qur'an, as originally delivered, by heart; and of the supposed passages favouring Ali, had any ever existed, there would have been numerous transcripts in the hands of his family and followers. Both of these sources must have proved an effectual check upon any attempt at suppression. 

Fourth: The party of Ali shortly after assumed an independent attitude, and he himself succeeded to the Caliphate. Is it possible that either Ali, or his party, when thus arrived at power, would have tolerated a mutilated Qur'an-mutilated expressly to destroy his claims Yet we find that they used the same Qur'an as their opponents, and raised no shadow of an objection against it. 

“The insurgents are indeed said to have made it one of their complaints against Othman that he had caused a new edition to be made of the Qur'an, and had committed all the old copies to the flames; but these proceedings were objected to simply as unauthorized and sacrilegious. No hint was dropped of any alteration or omission. Such a supposition, palpably absurd at the time, is altogether an after-thought of the modern Sheeas. 
"We may, then, safely conclude that Othman's recension was what it professed to be, a reproduction of Abu Bakr's edition, with a more perfect conformity to the dialect of Mecca, and possibly a more uniform arrangement of its parts - but still a faithful reproduction. - 
*Haytu 'l.Qulub, leaf 420: The Ansars were ordained to oppose the claims of the family of Muhammad, and this was the reason why the other wretches took the office of Khalifah by force. After thus treating one Khalifah of God, they then mutilated and changed the other Khalifah, which is the book of God." 
" The most important question yet remains, viz. Whether Abu Bakr's edition was itself an authentic and complete collection of Mahomet's Revelations. The following considerations warrant the belief that it was authentic and, in the main, as complete as at the time was possible. 
"First. We have no reason to doubt that Abu Bakr was a sincere follower of Mahomet, and an earnest believer in the divine origin of the Qur'an. His faithful attachment to the Prophet's person, conspicuous for the last twenty years of his life, and his simple, consistent, and unambitious deportment as Caliph, admit no other supposition. Firmly believing the revelations of his friend to be the revelations of God himself, his first object would be to secure a pure and complete transcript of them.
A similar argument applies with almost equal force to Omar, and the other agents in the revision. The great mass of Mussulmans were undoubtedly sincere in their belief. From the scribes themselves, employed in the compilation, down to the humblest believer who brought his little store of writing on stones or palm-leaves, all would be influenced by the same earnest desire to reproduce the very words which their Prophet had declared as his message from the Lord. 
And a similar guarantee existed in the feelings of the people at large, in whose soul no principle was more deeply rooted than an awful reverence for the supposed word of God. The Qur'an itself contains frequent denunciations against those who should presume to 'fabricate anything in the name of the Lord,' or conceal any part of that which He had revealed. Such an action, represented as the very worst description of crime, we cannot believe that the first Moslems, in the early ardour of their faith and love, would have dared to contemplate. 
"Second.  The compilation was made within two years of Mahomet's death. We have seen that several of his followers had the entire revelation (excepting, perhaps, some obsolete fragments) by heart; that every Moslem treasured up more or less some portions in his memory and that there were official Reciters of it, for public worship and tuition, in all countries to which Islam extended. These formed an unbroken link between the Revelation fresh from Mahomet's lips, and the edition of it by Zaid. Thus the people were not only sincere and fervent in wishing for a faithful copy of the Qur'an; they were also in possession of ample means for realizing their desire, and for testing the accuracy and completeness of the volume placed in their hands by Abu Bakr. 
"Third. A still greater security would be obtained from the fragmentary transcripts which existed in Mahomet's life-time, and which must have greatly multiplied before the Qur'an was compiled. These were in the possession, probably, of all who could read. And as we know that the compilation of Abu Bakr came into immediate and unquestioned use, it is reasonable to conclude that it embraced and corresponded with every extant fragment, and therefore by common consent, superseded them. We hear of no fragments, sentences, or words, intentionally omitted by the compilers, nor of any that differed from the received edition. Had any such been discoverable, they 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. 
"Fourth. The contents and the arrangement of the Qur'an speak forcibly for its authenticity. All the fragments that could possibly be obtained have, with artless simplicity, been joined together. The patchwork bears no marks of a designing genius or a moulding hand. It testifies to the faith and reverence of the compilers, and proves that they dared no more than simply collect the sacred fragments and place them in juxtaposition. Hence the interminable repetitions; the palling reiteration of the same ideas, truths, and doctrines ; hence, scriptural stories and Arab legends, told over and over again with little verbal variation; hence the pervading want of connection, and the startling chasms between adjacent passages. 
Again, the frailties of Mahomet, supposed to have been noticed by the Deity, are all with evident faithfulness entered in the Qur'an. Not less undisguised are the frequent verses which are contradicted or abrogated by later revelations. The editor plainly contented himself with compiling and copying out in a continuous form, but with scrupulous accuracy, the fragmentary materials within his reach. He neither ventured to select from repeated versions of the same incident, nor to reconcile differences, nor by the alteration of a single letter to connect abrupt transitions of context, nor by tampering with the text to soften discreditable appearances. Thus we possess every internal guarantee of confidence. 

"But it may be objected, if the text of Abu Bakr's Qur'an was pure and universally received, how came it to be so soon corrupted, and to require, in consequence of its variations, an extensive recension? Tradition does not afford sufficient light to determine the cause of these discrepancies. They may have been owing to various readings in the older fragmentary transcripts which remained in the possession of the people; they may have originated in the diverse dialects of Arabia, and the different modes of pronunciation and orthography; or they may have sprung up naturally in the already vast domains of Islam, before strict uniformity was officially enforced. 

It is sufficient for us to know that in Othman's revision recourse was had to the original exemplar of the first compilation, and that there is otherwise every security, internal and external, that we possess a text the same as that which Mahomet himself gave forth and used." (Life of Mahomet, new ed., p. 557 et seqq.) 

The various readings (qira'ah) in the Qur'an are not such as are usually understood by the term English authors, but different dialects of the Arabic language. Ibn 'Abbas says the Prophet said, "Gabriel taught me to read the Qur'an in one dialect, and when I recited it he taught me to recite it in another dialect, and so on until the number of dialects increased to seven." (Mishkiit, book ii. ch. ii.) 

Muhammad seems to have adopted this expedient to satisfy the desire of the leading tribes to have a Qur'an in their own dialect; for' Abdu 'l-Haqq says, " The Qur'an was first revealed in the dialect of the' Quaraish, which was the Prophet's native tongue; but when the Prophet saw that the people of other tribes recited it with difficulty, then he obtained permission from God to extend its currency by allowing it to be recited in all the chief dialects of Arabia, which ,were seven:-Quraish, Taiy, Hawazim, Yaman, Saqif, Huzail and Banu Tamim. Everyone of these tribes accordingly read the Qur’an in its own dialect, till the time of 'Usman, when those differences of reading ,were prohibited." 

These seven dialects are called in Arabic, Saba'tu Ahruf; and in Persian Haft Qira’at.