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History of the Quran

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History of the Quran

The history of the Quran refers to the oral revelation of the Quran to Islamic prophet Muhammad, and its subsequent written compilation into a manuscript. It spans 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 Sura Iqra (al-`Alaq), thus beginning the revelation of the Quran. Throughout his life, Muhammad continued to have revelations until before his death in 632.[1] Muslims agree that the manuscript of the Quran we see today was compiled by Uthman the third caliph (653-656).. Upon the canonization, Uthman ordered the burning of all personal copies of the Quran. The copy of the Quran kept with Muhammad's wife Hafsa was accepted. Until then, several copies of the Quran were available in different regions of Arabia with different dialects, so Uthman ordered only one version of the Quran to exist to prevent any misinterpretation of Quranic text.

Due to varying historical documents, controversy exists amongst scholars as to whether the Uthmanic codex we have today is authentic and complete. Most Muslim scholars believe the Uthmanic Quran to be the authentic revelation to Muhammad, while some non-Muslim scholars believe verses were removed and other codices of the Quran are more absolute.[2] Nevertheless, even according to secular scholars what was done to the Quran in the process seems to have been extremely conservative and the content was formed in a mechanical fashion as to avoid redactional bias.[3]


  • Origin according to tradition 1
  • Collection of the Quran 2
    • Muhammad 2.1
    • Ali ibn Abi Talib 2.2
    • Abu Bakr 2.3
    • Uthman ibn Affan and the canonization 2.4
  • Varying codices and the start of the canonization 3
    • ʿAbdullah ibn Masʿud’s codex 3.1
    • Ubay ibn Ka'b’s codex 3.2
  • Early manuscripts to the final canonical text 4
    • Umayyad Period (44/661–132/750) – Hijazi script 4.1
    • Abbasid Period (132/750–640/1258) 4.2
      • Early Abbasid Style 4.2.1
      • New Abbasid Style 4.2.2
    • The Cairo Qu'ran compilation of 1924: The first widely accepted mass-printed Arabic Qu’ran 4.3
  • Skeptical scholars 5
    • Similarities to the Bible 5.1
  • Completeness 6
    • Manuscripts 6.1
    • Islamic Sources 6.2
    • Islamic View: Sunni and Shia 6.3
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Origin according to tradition

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According to traditional Islamic beliefs, the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, starting one night during the month of Ramadan in 610 AD, when he, at the age of forty, received the first revelation from the angel Gabriel, who had given him the responsibility for inscribing these messages from the Islamic God to give to mankind.[4]

Muslim scholars believe that prophet Muhammad was illiterate, as mentioned in the Quran 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......"Quran 7:157.

According to Bukhari, Muhammad's wife Aisha described that the first Quranic revelation occurred when 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 Gabriel brought the word of God to Muhammad verbatim, without any alteration or change. The Quran emphasizes that Muhammad was required only to receive the sacred text and that he had no authority to change it (10.15). Even though Muhammad had no authority to change the Quran, 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.[6]

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 Quran by ear, and later recite it to his companions, who also memorized it or wrote it down. Before the Quran was commonly available in written form, speaking it from memory prevailed as the mode of teaching it to others. The practice of memorizing the whole Quran is still practiced among Muslims. Millions of people have memorized the entire Quran 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.[7]

People questioned the nature and modes of Muhammad’s revelations. The Meccans of Muhammad judged the Quranic 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).[8]

Collection of the Quran

Due to the fact that the Quran 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 Quran 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 the Quranic verses to his Companions and instruct them to memorize it. Due to this, people question whether the Quran was ever written and collected during the time of Muhammad. While writing was not a common skill during Muhammad’s time, Mecca, being the commercial center, had a number of people who could write. Some scholars believe that up to 48 scribes including Zayd ibn Thabit and Ubay ibn Ka'b recorded verses of the Quran. This provides an explanation as to how the Quran existed in written form during the life of Muhammad, even if it was not compiled into one text.[5]:83

Most Sunni and Shia scholars believe that the Quran was written down in its entirety at the time of Muhammad’s death. Muhammad's cousin Ibn Abbas describes the way in which the final version of the Quran 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."[9] It is believed that the term "reciting the Quran twice" means compiling all the Quranic 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 Quran was created. The term 'recite', which is used here, is referring to the custom where a Quranic scholar recites the entire Quran 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.[10]

In one of the hadith Muhammad supposedly said, "I leave among you two things of high estimation: the Book of God and my Family."[11] Some scholars argue that this provides evidence that the Quran 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.[12]

Another argument these scholars bring up is the importance that Muhammad attached to the Quran. They believe that since Muhammad put so much importance to the Quran he had to have ordered the writing of it during his lifetime. For example, Zayd ibn Thabit reported, "We used to record the Quran from parchments in the presence of the Messenger of God."[13]

Some authors believe that, as long as Muhammad 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.[14]

Ali ibn Abi Talib

Shia scholars are unanimous that Ali ibn Abu Talib possessed a personal transcript of the Quran, which he collected six months after Muhammad's death, and that this was the first compilation of the Quran. The unique aspect about this version is that it was collected in the order it was sent,[15] which mainstream Shi’ism hold is the only difference between the Quran we have today and Ali’s.[5]:89–90

A few Shia scholars argue that Ali presented his Quran 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"[16] They also believe that Ali’s version of the Quran 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 imma, rearrangement of words and deletion of words pertaining to the right of Ali being the first caliph.[17]

The contemporary Shia scholar Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei provides a counter argument to this belief. He states that even if Ali’s Quran incorporated additions that are not part of the existing Quran, this does not mean that these additions comprised parts of the Quran 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 Quran. These additions were not part of the Quran and not part of what the Messenger of God was commanded to convey to the Muslim community.[18]

Abu Bakr

According to Sunni scholars, during the life of Muhammad parts of the Quran, though written, were scattered amongst his companions, much of it as private possession[19] The amount of Scribes was 43 companions. And there were many people who though were not scribes also were complete memorizers. 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][21] During the battle, 70 Muslims who had memorized the Quran were killed. The death of Salim, however, was most significant, as he was one of the very few who had been entrusted by Muhammad to teach the Quran. Consequently, upon Umar's insistence, Abu Bakr ordered the collection of the hitherto scattered pieces of the Quran into one copy.[20][22]

Zaid ibn Thabit, Muhammad's primary scribe, was assigned the duty of gathering all of the Quranic 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 Yamama 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 Quran] and I fear it will deal with them with equal severity in other theatres of war. As a result much of the Quran will be gone. " 'I am therefore of the opinion that you should command the Quran 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 Quran 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 Quran... So I started locating the Quranic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leafstalks of date palms and from the memories of men.[Bukhari Sahih al-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).[23]

The task required Zaid Bin Thabit to collect written copies of the Quran, with each verse having been validated with the oral testimony of at least two companions. The Quran was collected under the auspices of committee of 4 senior ranking Companions headed by Zaid ibn Thabit [24]

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.[21]

It should be noted that Sunnis dismiss the shia version of the Quranic compilation as nothing more than Twelver Shia fabrications. They point to the fact that Zaydi shias who form the oldest living shia Sect believe in the above events described in Sahih Bukhari.[25]

The famous ten People who form the chains of narration regarding the Quran are as follows.

  1. Umar ibn al Khattab [26]
  2. Uthman bin Affan[27]
  3. Ali ibn abi Talib[28]
  4. Abu Musa al Ash'ari[29]
  5. Ubay Ibn Ka'b[30]
  6. Abdullah ibn Masood[31]
  7. Zayd Ibn Thabit[32]
  8. Abu Hurairah[33]
  9. Abdullah Ibn Abbas[34]
  10. Abu al-Darda[35]

Amongst those ten the two most important people were zayd ibn thabit the personal scribe of Muhammad and Ubay ibn Ka'b who was the foremost authority on the Quran after zaid.[36][37]

Uthman ibn Affan and the canonization

The Quranic canon is the form of the Quran 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 Quran 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.[38]

By the time of Uthman's caliphate, there was a perceived need for clarification of Quran reading. 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.[39] 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 Quran into one specific Arabic dialect. Another reason for compiling the Quran was that many Muslims who had memorised the Quran in its entirety (huffaz) were dying, especially in battle.

According to the dominant version narrated by Bukhari, the reason for the final collection of the Quran 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.[2]

It is believed that the general Hudhayfah ibn 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.[40] If there was disagreement amongst such a vast number of soldiers on the correct way of reciting the Quran, it is understandable why Hudhayfah 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, Hudhayfah "How did the Messenger of God pray?" Hudhayfah told him the soldier prayed before fighting.[41]

It is believed upon Hudhayfah's request Uthman obtained the sheets of the Quran from Ḥafṣa and appointed a commission consisting of Zayd and three prominent Meccans, and instructed them to copy the sheets into several volumes based on the dialect of Quraysh, the main tribe of Mecca.[2]

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

"So Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Quran so that we may compile the Quranic 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 Quran, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Quran 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 Quranic 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 Quran 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.'"[Quran 33:23][Bukhari Sahih al-Bukhari, 6:61:510]

When the task was finished Uthman kept one copy in Medina and sent others to Kufa, Baṣra, Damascus, and, according to some accounts, Mecca, and ordered that all other variant copies of the Quran to be destroyed. This was done everywhere except in Kufa, where some scholars argue that, Ibn Masʿūd and his followers refused.[2] It is also important that the compilation of the Quran 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 Uthmanic compilation.

It is generally accepted that the Uthmanic text comprises all 114 suras in the order known to us today.[38]

According to Ayatollah Khu’i there is no doubt that Uthman collected the Quran 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 Muhammad.[42]

This is one of the most contested issues and an area where many non-Muslim and Muslim scholars often clash.[38]

Varying codices and the start of the canonization

Before Uthman canonized the Quran 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 However, "the search for variants in the partial versions extant before the Caliph Uthman's alleged recension in the 640s has not yielded any differences of great significance".[43] The two most influential at this time are ʿAbdullah ibn Masʿud’s and Ubayy ibn Kaʿb’s codices.

ʿAbdullah ibn Masʿud’s codex

The most influential of the varying codices was that of ʿAbdullah ibn Masʿud’s, an early convert who became a personal servant to Muhammad. It is reported that he learned about seventy suras directly from Muhammad, who appointed him as one of the first teachers of Quran recitation. Later he was appointed to an administrative post in Kufa by the caliph ʿUmar, where he became a leading authority on the Quran and hadith. Some sources suggest that Ibn Masʿud refused to destroy his copy of the Quran or stop teaching it when the ʿUthmanic codex was made official.[2]

There are two points on which Ibn Masʿud’s version appears to differ from the ʿUthman’s text: the order of the suras and some variants in the readings. It is believed that it did not contain sura Al-Fatiha, the opening sura, and the Al-Mu'awwidhatayn, the two short suras with which the Quran 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 Masʿud is said to have written kulla ma as two words rather than one in a number of places.[2]

In Kufa, many people where Ibn Mas'ud had been teaching believed that ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud’s version was identical to the original revealed text. According to Kufan tradition, ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud was actually present when the final version of the Quran was revealed to Muhammad. In one tradition Ibn Abbas says: "The Quran was recited before 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 abrogations and amendments made in it."[44] Also, in the Kufan tradition Muhammad is quoted as saying "Whosoever wishes to read the Quran pure as when it was revealed, let him read the version of Ibn Umm ‘Abd," i.e. Ibn Mas’ud’s version.[45]

People who followed Ibn Mas’ud’s codex felt disapproval toward Zayd, who was considered unfit to compile and edit the Quran, both because he was younger than, and not as educated in, the Quran as Ibn Mas’ud. In one tradition, it is related that ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud gave a sermon in which he said: "I learned from the mouth of the Prophet seventy-some suras when Zayd was still a youth with two sidelocks and played with the youngsters"[45] It is also important to note that Zayd was involved in two compilations of the Quran, 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.

Ubay ibn Ka'b’s codex

The second most influential codex was Ubay ibn Ka'b’s, a Medinan Muslim who served as a secretary for Muhammad. It is believed that he may have been more prominent as a Quran specialist than Ibn Masʿud 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 hadith, Ubay is seen in a variety of roles. For instance, the "sheets" of Ubay 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 Quran to scribes.[2]

His version of the Quran is said to have included two short suras not in the ʿUthmanic and Ibn Masʿud texts: Sūrat al-Khal, with three verses, and Sūrat al-Ḥafd, with six. The order of suras in Ubayy's codex is said to have differed from that of Uthman's and Ibn Masʿud's as well.,[2] although these are structural differences rather than textual variations.

The first so called sura entitled al-khal' (separation), translates as follows: 'O Allah, we seek your help and ask your forgiveness, and we praise you and we do not disbelieve in you. We separate from and leave who sins against you.'

The second so-called sura, entitled al-hafd (haste) translates as follows: 'O Allah, we worship You and to You we pray and prostrate and to You we run and hasten to serve You. We hope for Your mercy and we fear Your punishment. Your punishment will certainly reach the disbelievers.' Obviously these two pieces constitute so-called 'qunut', i.e. supplications which Muhammad sometimes said in the morning prayer or witr prayer after recitation of suras from the Quran. They are in fact identical to some parts of qunut reported in the collections of hadith. See: Nawawi, al-adhkar, Cairo, 1955, pp. 57–8.

As to the single additional so-called aya, its translation is as follows: 'If the son of Adam was given a valley full of riches, he would wish a second one, and if he was given two valleys full of riches, he would surely ask for a third one. Nothing will fill the belly of the son of Adam except dust, and Allah is forgiving to him who is repentant. '

Again this text is known to be a hadith from Muhammad. See Bukhari, VIII, No. 444-47. According to Ibn 'Abbas (No. 445) and 'Ubay (No. 446) this text was at times thought to be part of the Quran. However Ubay himself clarifies that after sura 102: I had been revealed, they (i.e. the sahaba) did not consider the above to be part of the Quran. See Bukhari, VIII, No. 446.

This explanation of Ubay also makes it very clear that the Companions did not differ at all about what was part of the Quran and what was not part of the Quran. when the revelation had ceased. and if e.g. this hadith occurred in the mushaf of Ubay, it was a mushaf for his own personal use, in other words, his private notebook, where he did not always distinguish between Quranic material and hadith, since it was not meant for general use and he himself knew well what to make of his own notes. The same is true of the other copies of the Quran, which some of the Companions had for their own personal use.

Also those who transmitted to us the reports about these copies of the Quran of the Companions have only narrated to us the various differences which occurred there according to reports that reached them (e.g. the hadith in Bukhari, VIII, No. 446 that Ubay at some early stage held this sentence to be part of the Quran). However the actual manuscripts of these copies of the Quran of the Companions have not come down to us, since all of them agreed on the correctness and validity of the copies which 'Uthman had arranged to be written and distributed for general use. Hence their own personal notebooks became obsolete and were destroyed.[46]

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 Quran. However, scholars deny the possibility of great changes of the text arguing that addition, suppression or alteration would have led to controversy 'of which there is little trace'. They further state that even though Uthman became unpopular among Muslims, he was not charged with alteration or mutilation of the Quran in general.[47]

During the manuscript age, the Quran was the most copied Arabic text. It was believed that copying the Quran would bring blessings on the scribe and the owner.[48]

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 Quran was preserved through memorization and written references on different materials. As Arab society started to evolve into using writing more regularly, writing skills evolved accordingly. Early Quranic 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 for the misprononciation of the word. 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.[2]

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

The earliest known manuscripts of the Quran are collectively called the Hijazi script, and are mostly associated with the Umayyad period.[48]

Most of the fundamental reform to the manuscripts of the Quran took place under Abd al-Malik, the fifth Umayyad caliph (65/685–86/705).[48]

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.[49]

During this time the construction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in 72/691–92 was done, which was complete with Quranic inscriptions. The inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock in fact represent the earliest known dated passages from the Quran. In these inscriptions, many letters are already provided with diacritical points.[48]

The earliest codices of the Quran 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 Quran and to distinguish the Islamic tradition from the Jewish and Christian ones, who used vertical formats for their scriptures.[48]

During this time, there was a diversity of styles in which the Quran 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.[48]

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 Qurans 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.[48]

New Abbasid Style

The New Abbasid Style (NS) began at the end of the 9th century and was used for copying the Quran 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.[48]

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).[50]

Another central figure during this time was Abu Bakr b. Mudjahid (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 Quran 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 ḥadith in which Muhammad says the Quran was revealed to him in "seven aḥruf". During this time there was strong Quranic traditions in Kufa, Baṣra, Medina, Damascus, and Mecca. Due to this Ibn Mudjahid selected one reading each for Medina, Mecca, Baṣra, and Damascus—those of Nafiʿ (died 169/785), Ibn Kathir (died 120/737), Abu ʿAmr (died 154/770), and IbnʿAmir (died 118/736), respectively—and three for Kūfa, those of ʿAsim (died 127/744), Ḥamza (died 156/772), and al-Kisaʾi (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.[2]

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 Quranic script, and his calligraphic work became the standard way of writing the Quran.[50]

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 Quranic 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

The Cairo Qu'ran compilation of 1924: The first widely accepted mass-printed Arabic Qu’ran

At the beginning of the early 20th century, the Quran did not yet have a widely accepted mass-printed version, there being many publications with variations in text and Qira’at (readings).

This was also the case in Cairo, Egypt; hence the Egyptian government was motivated to publish a government-sponsored official version for religious education in its schools.[51]

The first edition of the Egyptian Quran was published on July 10, 1924 in Cairo; subsequent revisions to the text were made in 1924 and 1936 when it was re-published. The text upon release in 1936 became known as the Faruq edition in honour of the Egyptian king Faruq.[51]

While only intended as a government-sponsored version for religious schools and never meant to be text-critical in a historical sense, the Cairo edition quickly became remarkably popular throughout the Middle East and has been almost universally accepted by both Shia and Sunni Muslims as the ‘official’ Qu’ranic text.

Otto Pretzl, for example, noted in 1938 that for the first time a de facto canonical text had emerged for the Quran.[52]

Due to discrepancies in text and differences in Qira’at, Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Husayni al-Haddad, who led the Cairo government-sponsored compilation, ordered a large number of Qurans in Cairo at the time to be sunk in the Nile in order to give the government project legitimacy.[51]

Varying Qira’at readings for the Quran are part of the developmental history of the text; the idea that a number of equally canonical Qira’at exist did not gain full acceptance until the 10th century, when such divisions over the Quranic text arose under Ibn Mujāhid.[53]

Ibn Mujāhid believed there were seven equally valid Qira’at for the Quran; others believed ten or fourteen. Over time, Ibn Mujāhid’s seven proposed Qira’at (attributed to him using a Hadith that speaks of "seven letters" of the Quran), each with two versions, gained gradual (though not complete) acceptance.[53]

As such, there were fourteen different versions considered equally authentic; one of which was Hafs ‘an ‘Asim, which the Egyptian government decided to select for its project.

Even within Hafs ‘an ‘Asim, however, there was and is no unanimity – as four different lines (turuq) are claimed for it, with textual variants among each.

As such, the Egyptian government-appointed scholars had to go back through the Quranic manuscripts to see which reports on Hafs ‘an ‘Asim to trust for their own compilation.

Researchers at the time generally believed this was relatively well done; Gotthelf Bergsträsser, for example, noted when examining their publication that only in a small number of cases was their reading contradicted by earlier sources on Hafs ‘an ‘Asim.[51]

However, the Cairo edition is often at odds with historical Quranic manuscripts.[54] Professor Arthur Jeffrey, for example, compared the Cairo edition with the Samarkand manuscript, detailing the many discrepancies and scribal insertions between the two.[55]

Turkish professor Dr Tayyar Altikulac mounted a similar study with the Topkapi manuscripts in Turkey and found 2,270 variances and discrepancies [56]

Skeptical scholars

Other secular scholars, such as John Wansbrough, Michael Cook, and Patricia Crone, are less willing to attribute the entire Quran to Muhammad (or Uthman), arguing that there "is no hard evidence for the existence of the Quran 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 Quran was collected under Uthman, since the earliest surviving copies of the complete Quran are centuries later than Uthman. (The oldest existing copy of the full text is from the 9th century.[57]) 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.[58]

Such scholars have been proven wrong by subsequent scientific evidence carbon dating early manuscripts of the Quran. "The opening chapters of Fred Donner's Narrative of Islamic Origins: The beginning of historical writings convincingly refutes the theoretical and methodological flaws of the skeptical school and instead dates the composition of the Quran, as a closed cannon, to an Arabian context of early believers preceding ... the first civil war in 656."[59] Donner's perspective now represents mainstream scholarly opinion.[60] The findings in 2015 of the Birmingham Manuscripts lead Joseph E. B. Lumbard, Assistant Professor of Classical Islam, Brandeis University, to comment: [61]

These recent empirical findings are of fundamental importance. They establish that as regards the broad outlines of the history of the compilation and codification of the Quranic text, the classical Islamic sources are far more reliable than had hitherto been assumed. Such findings thus render the vast majority of Western revisionist theories regarding the historical origins of the Quran untenable.
— Joseph E. B. Lumbard
Dome of the Rock. The structure, the oldest extant example of early Islamic architecture, was completed in 691 AD

The Dome of the Rock with its inscriptions are interesting in the dating of the text.[62] 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 Quran, 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.[62]

Wansbrough wrote in a dense, complex, almost hermetic style,[62] 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[63][64][65]

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.[66] 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 Quranic 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 basmallah 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.[62]

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.[67]

Patricia Crone, studying the origins of the Quran, 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.[68]

The skeptic approach has been further expanded by Christoph Luxenberg, who supports claims for a late composition of the Quran, and traces much of it to sources other than Muhammad. Luxenberg is known for his thesis that the Quran is merely a re-working of an earlier Christian text, a Syriac lectionary.[69] (See also the articles Gerd R. Puin, and Alexander the Great in the Quran.)

Fred Donner has argued for an early date for the collection of the Quran, based on his reading of the text itself. He points out that if the Quran 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 Quran that does not reflect what is known of the earliest Muslim community.[70]

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 Quran were written. Some of these fragments were believed to be the oldest Quranic texts yet found.[71]

Similarities to the Bible

Skeptical scholars account for the many similarities between the Quran 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 Quran 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.[72]



When comparing early Qu'ranic manuscripts such as Sana'a, Topkapi or Tashkent to the presently published Arabic Qu'ran, numerous scribal insertions, editing and variances can be found.[73]

Islamic Sources

Records from Islamic sources suggest that before Caliph Uthman's standardization, where variants were allegedly burned, the Qu'ran may have contained either 116 chapters (Ubayy Ibn Kaab's Codex) or 112 (Ibn Ma'sud's Codex)[74] instead of the present 114. There is also a wide ranging Hadith tradition that indicates both missing chapters and missing verses prior to Uthman's collection.[75]

Islamic View: Sunni and Shia

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 Quran, 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 Quran initiated by Abu Bakr. In one version of a report at the time, 'Umar was once looking for the text of a specific verse of the Quran 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.[76] Experts on hadith literature have rejected this hadith, as all routes of transmission either contain narrators charged with dishonesty in disclosing sources or simply conflict with the majority version of the report, which all have authentic routes of transmission but omit the part about the piece of paper being eaten.[77][78]

Certain Shia 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-Khoei addresses this issue and argues for the authenticity and completeness of the Quran 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-Khoei states that the collection of the Quran 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.[79]

Another argument Al-Khoei brings up in favor of the Quran 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 Quran. The value and importance of the Quran during this time protected it from being altered.[79] 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 Quran from the hearts of the Muslims who had memorized it.[80]

In addition, had Uthman changed the Quran, 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-Khoei also argues that if Uthman had altered the Quran, 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 Quran during his reign, which is evidence that there was no alteration.[79]

See also


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  76. ^ Modarressi, Hossein (1993). "Early Debates on the Integrity of the Qur'an: A Brief Survey". Studia Islamica (Maisonneuve and Larose) 77. 
  77. ^ Shu'aib al-Arna`ut, Tahqiq Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, vol. 6, pg. 269, hadith #26,359. Beirut: Mu`assasah al-Risalah.
  78. ^ Muhammad Taqi Usmani, Takmilat Fath al-Mulhim, vol. 1, pg. 69. Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi.
  79. ^ a b c Al-Khu'i, Al-Sayyid (1998). The Prolegomena to the Qur'an. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 150.  
  80. ^ Al-Khu'i, Al-Sayyid (1998). The Prolegomena the Qur'an. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 172.  

Further reading

  • M. M. Azami (2003). The History of the Qur'anic Text from Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments. UK Islamic Academy. 
  • 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.
  • Jane Dammen McAuliffe, ed. (2006). The Cambridge Companion to the Quar'an. Cambridge University Press.  
  • Adam J. Silverstein (2010). Islamic History: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.  

External links

  • Read Quran Online
  • Dated Muslim Texts From 1-72 AH / 622-691 AD: Documentary Evidence For Early Islam Islamic Awareness
  • Corpus Coranicum: comprehensive website on early Quran manuscripts by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities
  • Several early Qur'ans: information, zoomable images British Library website
  • History of the Quran
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