Discover Islam: Basic Concepts: Qur'an






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Preservation of the Qur’ân

It is the firm and undisputed belief of all Muslims that the Qur’ân we read today is the Word of Allâh, in letter and meaning. Unlike every other religious scripture in the world, the Qur’ân is one which has remained unchanged, in its original language, without the revision of a single word since the time of the Prophet Muhammad . This is the realization of the promise made by Allâh in the Qur’ân itself,

Surely We have revealed the Admonition (the Qur’ân), and surely We are its Guardian.[1]

and throughout the centuries the mechanism of preservation has been twofold: memorization and writing.

In brief, whenever a verse of the Qur’ân was revealed, the Prophet  would be divinely caused to memorize it. He would then convey the message to his companions, many of whom would also memorize it by heart instantly and several of whom were entrusted with the job of committing it to writing. Thus, from the earliest time there was a continuous tradition among the Muslims of committing the Qur’ân to memory[2] and propagating it through authenticated written manuscripts.

Without going into the historical details of the preservation and transmission of the Qur’ân through the centuries (which are readily available and have been thoroughly scrutinized by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars[3]), we reproduce here a short commentary[4] on the Qur’ânic verse quoted above:

Islâm knows no such thing as ‘redactions’ of its Holy Text. Even those who have most stoutly denied its being the Word of Allâh are unanimous in testifying to its being exactly the same ‘work of Muhammad’ as it was thirteen centuries ago. Let us have the testimony of a few such unwilling witnesses:-

·        ‘This text of the Quran is the purest of all the works of a like antiquity.’ (Wherry, Commentary on the Quran, I p. 349)

·        ‘Othman’s[5] recension has remained the authorised text… from the time it was made until the present day.’ (Palmer, The Quran!, Intro., p. LIX)

·        The text of this recension substantially corresponds to the actual utterances of Muhammed himself.’ (Arnold, Islamic Faith, p. 9)

·        ‘All sects and parties have the same text of the Quran.’ (Hurgronje, Mohammedanism, p. 18)

·        ‘It is an immense merit in the Koran that there is no doubt as to its genuineness… That very word we can now read with full confidence that it has remained unchanged through nearly thirteen hundred years.’ (Lane-Poole, Selections from the Koran, Intro. p. C).

·        ‘The recension of ‘Othman has been handed down to us unaltered… There is probably in the world no other work which has remained twelve centuries with so pure a text.’ (Muir, Life of Mahomet, Intro. p. 22).

·        ‘In the Koran we have, beyond all reasonable doubt, the exact words of Mohammad without substraction and without addition.’ (Bosworth Smith, Mohammad and Mohammedanism, p. 22).

·        ‘The Koran was his own creation; and it lies before us practically unchanged from the form which he himself gave it.’ (Torrey, Jewish Foundation of Islam, p. 2).


As is further noted by another contemporary scholar,

The Divine care to preserve the purity of the Holy Qur’ân provided the impulse to put dots on alphabets of similar shape in order to distinguish between their pronunciations, to develop the twin sciences of philology and lexicography, and to lay down the rules of Arabic grammar and the criteria for rhetoric and style of prose writing. This literary activity has never ceased for a day since the second century of [the] Islâmic era. Also, the etymological structure of the Arabic language has saved its dialects, like a strong cementing force, from falling apart into distinct languages and thus the Divine revelation has remained intelligible to the succeeding generations. It is also noteworthy that the Providential arrangement of writing the commentaries of the Holy Qur’ân started as early as the third century A.H.[6] In the beginning the exegesis of the Holy Qur’ân formed a part of the science of hadîth[7] since it was generally thought that the divine revelation could be understood only in the light of [the] Holy Prophet’s  traditions, specially those handed down by ‘Abdullâh bin ‘Abbâs. But the exegesis of the Qur’ân became an independent science with the Tafsîr Tabri of Abű Ja’far Muhammad b. Jarîr Tabrî (d. 310 A.H.) and it has ever since been vigorously cultivated by the Muslim scholars. The commentaries of the Holy Qur’ân written from time to time are in fact a mine of historical information shedding light on the way the Qur’ân was understood during different periods.[8]


We conclude this section with an interesting (true and authentic) anecdote about the court of Ma’műn, who was khalîf (Caliph) of the Muslim empire around the beginning of the 3rd century Hijri (9th century C.E.):[9]

It was the habit of Ma’műn to hold gatherings in his court in which scholarly discussions and arguments would take place, and to which all sorts of people of knowledge had free admission. In one of these gatherings, a Jew attended who appeared from his face, manner, clothes, etc. to be a well-cultured man. Then when he took part in the discussion, his eloquence, rhetoric, and knowledge was also apparent. When the meeting was over, Ma’műn called him and asked if he was an Israelite, which he affirmed. Ma’műn then mentioned that were he to become Muslim, he would find very good treatment and companionship with them. The man gave the direct answer that he was not prepared to leave his religion and that of his father and forefathers. The discussion was finished and the man left.

A year later, the same man reappeared in the court having become a Muslim. He now participated in the discussion giving excellent and well-researched lectures on the principles of Islâmic jurisprudence. When the gathering was over this time, Ma’műn again called the man to him and asked if he was the same one who had been there the previous year. The man replied affirmatively and Ma’műn asked, “At that time, you vehemently refused to accept Islâm, but now what has caused you to become a Muslim?”

The man said, “I left here last time and made a decision to study the existing religions. By trade I am a calligrapher—I write manuscripts and sell them and I get a good price for them. So I performed an experiment in which I wrote three manuscripts of the Torah, to which I made many additions and deletions of my own to the actual text, and I took it to a synagogue. The Jews very eagerly purchased all of the manuscripts. Similarly, I prepared three copies of the Gospel, with many of my own modifications in it, and took them to the churches, where the Christians very happily purchased them. Now I tried the same with the Qur’ân—I prepared three modified copies written in a very excellent hand. However, when I tried to sell these, no matter who I took them to, they would first examine them thoroughly and completely. When they discovered additions and deletions, they immediately refused to take them. Hence, I understood that this book—the Qur’ân—is protected by a Divine providence and thus I accepted the way of Islâm.”[10]



[1] Qur’ân 15:9.

[2] A recent estimate of the number of Muslims worldwide who have committed the Qur’ân to memory is 10 million! (ICNA pamphlet, circa 2002)

[3] See Approach to the Qur'ânic Sciences or Reflections on the Collection of the Qur’ân.

[4] Tafsir-ul-Qur’ân vol. 2, pg. 438.

[5] The third khalîf (Caliph) after the Prophet  who achieved the task of having authenticated manuscripts of the Qur’ân disseminated throughout the Islâmic empire, which at that time had grown to cover three continents.

[6] “After Hijrah.” Around the 8th/9th centuries of the Christian Era.

[7] Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad .

[8] Tafsir-ul-Qur’ân, Intro. vol. 1, pg. xi.

[9] Translated from Ma’âriful-Qur’ân vol. 5, pg. 281. Quoted from Imâm Qurtubi’s commentary of the Qur’ân who related it on the basis of a continuous chain of narration from the time it happened.

[10] Qâzi Yahyâ bin Aktam, the narrator of this incident, mentioned that by chance he got the ability to perform the Hajj (Muslim rites of pilgrimage to Makkah) and in Makkah he came across Sufyân bin ‘Uyaynâ (a great scholar of the time). He said that he related this story to Sufyân who said, “Indeed, this is how one should expect such an experiment to turn out, and the reason is found in the Qur’ân itself.” Qâzi Yahyâ asked what verse of the Qur’ân led him to this conclusion. He replied, “(in reference to the books of the Jews and Christians, Allâh says,) by what was committed to their keeping of the Book of Allâh… [Qur’ân 5:44]. Thus, when they became lax of their duties, their books became modified and lost. However, with regard to the Qur’ân, Allâh says, and surely We are its Guardian [Qur’ân 15:9].” That is, the preservation of this book is the responsibility of the Almighty, not of the human creation. For this reason, despite the human shortcomings of Muslims, we still find the Qur’ân perfectly preserved.



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Last modified 08/12/05 09:45 AM - Connecticut Council of Masajid, Inc.