Transmission of the Qur'an Written Text

Transmission of the Qur'anic Revelation (Part 2)
Transmission of The Qur'an's Written Text

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The general meaning of jam` al-Qur'an is to 'bring together the Qur'an.' This was done and has to be understood in two ways:

1. Bringing together the Qur'an orally, or in one's mind (hifz).

2. Bringing together the Qur'an in written form, or on sheets, or in a book.

Therefore, Jam` al-Qur'an in the classical literature has various meanings:

  • To learn the Qur'an by heart.
  • To write down every revelation.
  • To bring together those materials upon which the Qur'an has been written.
  • To bring together the reports of people who have memorized the Qur'an.
  • To bring together all such sources, both oral and written.

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In As-Suyuti’s Al-Itqan, it is said that the Qur'an had been written down in its entirety in the time of the Prophet but had not been brought together in one single place, and therefore these written records or documents had not been arranged in order. (As-Suyuti, Al-Itqan, I, p. 41)

However, this statement does not preclude that the ordering of the Qur'an and the arrangement of the surahs was fixed by the Prophet himself and safeguarded through oral transmission.


Stages of Collection

As far as the written text is concerned, one may distinguish three stages:

1. In the time of the Prophet:

a. In the hearts of men (memorization).

b. On writing materials.

2. In the time of Abu Bakr.

3. In the time of `Uthman.


Why was no Book left by the Prophet?

The Prophet Muhammad did not present to his Companions the revelation collected and arranged in a single written volume. There are a number of good reasons for this:

  • Because the revelation did not come down in one piece, but at intervals and was received continuously until the end of the Prophet's life.
  • Because some verses were abrogated in the course of revelation, and therefore flexibility needed to be maintained.
  • The ayat and surahs were not always revealed in their final order, but were arranged later.
  • The Prophet lived only nine days after the last revelation and was severely ill.
  • There was no dispute or friction about the Qur'an during the time of the Prophet, as developed afterwards when he, as the final authority, was no longer available.


Writing down the Revelation 

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While writing was not widespread among the people in Arabia at the time of the Prophet, there were people who reportedly did write. It is said for example of Waraqah, Khadijah's cousin, that he had been converted to Christianity in the pre-Islamic period "and used to write Arabic and write of the Gospel in Arabic as much as Allah wished him to write." (Bukhari)

The Prophet himself did much to encourage the Muslims to learn to write. It is related that some of the Quraish, who were taken prisoners at the battle of Badr, regained their freedom after they had taught some of the Muslims the art of writing. (Tabaqat Ibn Sa`d, II, p. 19)


Did the Prophet himself write? 

Although it is not clear whether the Prophet Muhammad knew how to write, there is unanimous agreement among scholars that Muhammad himself did not write down the revelation. The Qur'an clearly states:

{And thou (O Muhammad) wast not a reader of any scripture before it, nor didst thou write it with thy right hand, for then might those have doubted who follow falsehood} (Al-`Ankbut 29:48)

The well-known report about `Umar's conversion shows that large passages of the revelation had already been written down even at a very early time, in Makkah, long before the hijrah.
The Qur'an also refers to Muhammad on several occasions as the 'unlettered prophet' which some scholars have interpreted in the sense that he did not read or write:

{Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet ...} (Al-A`raf 7: 157)

His community too has been described as 'unlettered':

{It is he who has sent amongst the unlettered a messenger from among themselves ...} (Al-Jum`ah 62:2)


The Qur'an was written during the Prophet's lifetime 

There is no doubt that the Qur'an was not only transmitted orally by many Muslims who had learned parts or the whole of it, but that it was also written down during the lifetime of the Prophet.

The well-known report about `Umar's conversion shows that large passages of the revelation had already been written down even at a very early time, in Makkah, long before the hijrah, when the Prophet was still in the house of Al-Arqam. `Umar had set out to kill the Prophet Muhammad, when somebody informed him that Islam had already spread into his own family and pointed out to him that his brother-in-law, his nephew and his sister had all become Muslims. `Umar went to the house of his sister and found her together with her husband and another Muslim. A dispute arose and `Umar violently attacked both his brother-in-law and his own sister:

M. A`zami in his book Kuttab An-Nabi mentions 48 scribes who used to write for the Prophet.

When he did that they said to him, "Yes, we are Muslims and we believe in God and His Messenger and you can do what you like".

When `Umar saw the blood on his sister, he was sorry for what he had done and turned back and said to his sister, 'Give me this sheet which I heard you reading just now so that I may see just what it is which Muhammad has brought', for `Umar could write.

When he said that, his sister replied that she was afraid to trust him with it. 'Do not be afraid', he said and he swore by his gods that he would return it when he had read it. When he said that, she had hopes that he would become a Muslim and said to him, 'My brother, you are unclean in your polytheism and only the clean may touch it'.

So `Umar rose and washed himself and she gave him the page in which was Surat Taha and when he had read the beginning he said 'How fine and noble is this speech ..." (Ibn Hisham, pp. 156-7.)


The Qur'an was dictated by the Prophet 

Memorization and Oral Transmission of The Qur'an

The Qur'an was not only written down by those Companions who did so on their own initiative. Indeed, the Prophet, when a revelation came, called for the scribe and dictated to him. The Prophet while in Madinah had several such scribes, among whom Zaid bin Thabit was very prominent. (M. M. A`zami, in his book Kuttab An-Nabi (Beirut, 1393/1974) mentions 48 scribes who used to write for the Prophet.) Narrated Al-Bara':

There was revealed {Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah} (An-Nisaa' 4: 95). The Prophet said: "Call Zaid for me and let him bring the board, the ink pot and the scapula bone (or the scapula bone and the ink pot)." Then he said: "Write: Not equal are those believers..." (Bukhari)

It is also reported that material upon which the revelation had been written down was kept in the house of the Prophet. (As-Suyuti, Al-Itqan, I, p. 58.)

Another report informs us that when people came to Madinah to learn about Islam, they were provided with 'copies of the chapters of the Qur'an, to read and learn them by heart'. (Hamidullah, Sahifa Hammam ibn Munabbih, Paris, 1979, p. 64.)

Further evidence for the existence of the Qur'an as a written document during the lifetime of the Prophet comes from the following account:

`Abdullah ibn Abu Bakr ibn Hazm reported: The book written by the Messenger of Allah for `Amr ibn Hazm contained that no one should touch the Qur'an without being in the state of purity (tahir) (Malik, Muwatta')

Malik said, "And no one should carry the mushaf by its strap, nor on a pillow, unless he is clean… in honor to the Qur'an and respect to it." (Muwatta', Arabic, p. 204.)

The commentary to the Muwatta' explains that the book referred to as written by the Prophet (which means of course written upon his instruction) was sent with some Muslims for instruction in Islam of the people of Yemen.

In fact the Qur'anic verse Al-Waqi`ah 56: 79, read in context, clearly explains that the Qur'an is available to those who receive instruction by revelation, in the form of a book or a piece of writing:

{... this is indeed a Qur'an most honorable, in a book (kitab) well guarded, which none shall touch but those who are clean: a revelation from the Lord of the worlds} (Al-Waqi`ah 56: 77-80).

Come Up with One Surah!

The same fact, i.e. that the Qur'an did exist as a written document in the lifetime of the Prophet is proved by the following hadith:

Ibn `Umar narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "Do not take the Qur'an on a journey with you lest it should fall into the hands of the enemy". (Bukhari and Muslim)

The correctness of the assumption that the reference is to a written document is supported by one of the transmitters: Ayub (i.e. one of the narrators in the chain of transmission of this report) said: The enemy may seize it and may quarrel with you over it. (Muslim)

Furthermore, the chapter-heading used by Bukhari for the section, (which usually contains additional information,) explains:

Ibn `Umar said: No doubt the Prophet and his Companions travelled in the land of the enemy and they knew the Qur'an then, i.e. they knew that the Quran was carried - as a scripture - by the Muslims. (Bukhari)

Ahmad Von Denffer was born in Germany in 1949. He is working for the Islamic Center, Munich, Germany. He has various publications in different languages.

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