Quran Preservation & Compilation -3 (under Abu Bakr)

In the last post of this series we discussed the circumstances during the time of Abu Bakr (RA) which lead him to seek the compilation of Qur’an in one binding. Today let’s analyze as to what he did and how actually;

Back drop in brief:

Although we discussed the back drop of this endeavor earlier as well but here is a quick recap;

Narrated Zaid bin Thabit Al-Ansari: Abu Bakr sent for me after the (heavy) casualties among the warriors (of the battle) of Yamama (where a great number of Qurra' were killed). 'Umar was present with Abu Bakr who said, 'Umar has come to me and said, The people have suffered heavy casualties on the day of (the battle of) Yamama, and I am afraid that there will be more casualties among the Qurra' (those who know the Qur'an by heart) at other battle-fields, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be lost, unless you collect it. And I am of the opinion that you should collect the Qur'an." Abu Bakr added, "I said to 'Umar, 'How can I do something which Allah's Messenger has not done?' 'Umar said (to me), 'By Allah, it is (really) a good thing.' So 'Umar kept on pressing, trying to persuade me to accept his proposal, till Allah opened my bosom for it and I had the same opinion as 'Umar." (Zaid bin Thabit added:) Umar was sitting with him (Abu Bakr) and was not speaking. me). "You are a wise young man and we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of forgetfulness): and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Messenger. Therefore, look for the Qur'an and collect it (in one manuscript). “By Allah, if he (Abu Bakr) had ordered me to shift one of the mountains (from its place) it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Qur'an. I said to both of them, "How dare you do a thing which the Prophet has not done?" Abu Bakr said, "By Allah, it is (really) a good thing. So I kept on arguing with him about it till Allah opened my bosom for that which He had opened the bosoms of Abu Bakr and Umar. So I started locating Qur’anic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leaf-stalks of date palms and from the memories of men (who knew it by heart). (Sahih Bukhari, Kitabul Tafir, Hadith 4603)

Why Zaid (RA)?

Here are some of the reasons for charging Zaid (RA) with this endeavor.

1. His intelligence and youth which indicates vibrancy and energy. The report says; ‘You are a wise young man.’

2. His being an upright person. The report says; ‘we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of forgetfulness.’

3. The fact that he had been a scribe of the Prophet (PBUH). The report says; ‘you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Messenger.’ [In the first post of this series we saw narrations from him explaining the recording of revelation in the presence of the Prophet]

4. He had attended Angel Gabriel’s recitation to the Prophet during the last Ramadan. See al-Tibyan p.126. This signifies that he was well aware of the different ‘ahruf’ and about the abrogated etc.

The Challenge for Zaid; what he did and why?

As clear from Zaid’s own words this was an arduous task because it involved the Word of Allah, so he had to be very clear and careful about what he was to do.

The methodology employed was derived from the Islamic law of Witnesses i.e. Qur’an 2:282 and reason. At least two written witnesses were required for every single verse that was to be included in the first complete official Mushaf.

We read in Ibn Abi Dawud’s Al-Masahif;

Abu Bakr told Umar and Zaid, “Sit at the entrance of the mosque. When one brings you something from the Book of Allah with two witnesses, then record it.” (Kitabul Masahif, Hadith 18)

Its narrators are authentic with a disconnection but it has many supporting evidences recorded in Suyuti’s Durr Manthur and Ahmad’s Musnad.

The aim was to bring together the best possible fool proof evidences.

1. He definitely employed his own memory.

2. Umar (RA) was with him, so surely he must have referred to what was preserved in his memory too.

3. Bilal roomed the streets of Medina and asked the Companions of the Prophet to bring the verses recorded with Prophet’s dictation. (Kitab as-Saba’ fil Qir’at li Ibn Mujahid , with research by Dr. Shauqi Da’if pub. Darul Ma’rif, Cairo , p.6)

Evidently this was done to ensure that all people do participate and nothing is left out of the Qur’an.

4. At least two written witnesses were required. Commenting on narration from Ibn Abi Dawud Hafiz Ibn Hajr says,

“The intention was to accept only what had been written in the Prophet’s presence, not relying on one’s memory alone.” (Fath al-Bari 14/193)

5. The reason why Zaid (RA) and co. sought only for the texts written in the presence of the Prophet is merely logical. As German orientalist Bergstrasser said about manuscript gradation;

a) If the original is extant, any copy scribed from this loses all significance.

b) Older copies were generally more reliable than newer ones. (Usul Naqd an-Nusus wa Nashr al-Kutub, Darul Kutab, Cairo, 1995 p. 14, 20)

Obviously any personally prepared manuscripts with the Companions could not equal the one prepared in the presence of the Prophet.

Answering a query:

Using the word of the narration from Sahih Bukhari some people bring a doubt. It’s about the statement;

‘So I started locating Qur’anic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leaf-stalks of date palms and from the memories of men.’

Al-Zarkashi responds to this;

“This statement has lead few to suppose that no one had memorized the Qur’an in its entirety during Prophet’s lifetime, and that claims of Zaid and Ubayy bin K’ab having done so are unfounded. But his is erroneous. What Zaid means in fact is that he sought out verses from scattered sources, to collate them against the recollections of the huffaz. In this way everyone participated in the collection process. No one possessing any portion of it was left out, and so one had any reason to express concern about the verses collected, nor could anyone complain that the text had been gathered from only a select few.” (Al-Burhan fi ‘Uloom al-Qur’an 1/238 pub. Darul Ahya al-Kutb al-Arabiyya, Cairo 1957)

Further Hafiz Ibn Hajr comments;

“Abu Bakr had not authorized him to record except what was already available [in written]. For this reason Zaid refrained from including the last verse of Surah Bara’a until he came upon it in written form, even though he and his fellow Companions could recall it perfectly well from memory.” (Fath al-Bari 14/193)

For a detailed response on the issue of the last two verses of Surah Bara’a [Al-Tawba], please see THIS.

Peculiarities of the collection under Abu Bakr (RA):

1. Although the verses were arranged according to instruction of the Prophet (PBUH) the Surahs were not compiled in the single copy. Infact each Surah was on a separate copy. See Mustadrak Al-Hakim, Hadith 2854. Its significance will be discussed when we discuss the compilation under Uthman (RA).

2. The seven Ahruf were preserved in it. See Manahil al-‘Irfan 1/246-247

3. It did not have any abrogated verse.

4. The purpose to produce this master Mushaf, called Al-Umm too (according to Al-Ittiqan), was to have a reference that is free from errors that could creep into personal endeavors of the same nature.

All these details not only tell us about the history of Qur’an compilation but also of the extreme care taken by the people involved with the text. If we compare the Bible’s history with this we come to know that in Bible's case it’s all mere conjecture and wishful guesses. All praise belongs to Allah who preserved His Final Word from such a fate!

Insha’Allah in the next post we shall discuss the compilation under Uthman (RA).

Works I referred to:

Other than the books referenced in the article I extracted material from the following works.

--Azmi, Muhammad Mustafa: History of the Qur’anic Text from Revelation to Compilation, (Suhail Academy Lahore, 2005)

--Usmani, Muhammad Taqi: ‘Uloom al-Qur’an, (Makteba Darul ‘Uloom Karachi, 2008)

--Gilani, Syed Manazir Ahsan: Tadwin Qur’an, (Makteba al-Bukhari Karachi, 2005)


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