The Quran holds a unique place among the books of Revelation, shared neither by the Old or the New Testament. The main reason for the preservation of the Quran is, that it was written down at the time of Prophet; we shall see how it came to be written, i.e., the process involved.
Here a distinction should be made between the hadiths and the Quran. The Quran is a book of revelation, while the hadiths are the collections of sayings if Muhammad (saws). Some of the Prophet’s companions started to write them down from the moment of his death. None of the hadiths were written down during the time of the prophet, so there is a possibility of human error slipping in. But this is not the case with Quran, as we will shortly see.
As the Revelation progressed, the Prophet and the believers following him recited the text by heart and the scribes in his following also wrote it down. It therefore starts off with two elements of authenticity. This continued up to the prophet’s death. At a time when not everybody could write, but everybody was able to recite, recitation afforded a considerable advantage because of double-checking possible when the definitive text was compiled.
Archangel Gabriel made the Quranic Revelation to Muhammad (saws). It took place over a period of more than twenty years of Prophet’s life, beginning with the very first verses of Sura 96, then resuming after a three-year break for a long period of twenty years up to the death of the Prophet in 632 A.D.
The following was the first Revelation (Sura 96, verses 1 to 5): “Read: in the name of thy Lord who created, Who created man from something that clings. Read! Thy Lord is the most Noble. Who taught by the pen, Who taught man what he did not know.”
Professor Hamidullah notes in the Introduction to his French translation of the Quran that one of the themes of this first revelation was the ‘praise of the pen as a means of human knowledge’ which would ‘explain the prophet’s concern for the preservation of Quran in writing.’
Texts formally prove that long before the Prophet left Mecca for Medina, the Quranic text so far revealed had been written down. We shall see how the Quran is authentic in this. We know that Muhammad (saws) and the believers surrounding him had the habit of reciting the revealed text from the memory. It is therefore inconceivable for the Quran to refer to the facts that did not square with reality because the latter could not be easily checked with the prophet in people in the Prophet’s following, by asking the authors of the transcription.
Four suras dating from a period prior to Hegira refer to the writing down of the Quran before the Prophet left Mecca in 622 A.D. (surah 80, verses 11 to 16): “By no means! Indeed it is message of instruction. Therefore let whose will, Keep it in remembrance. (It is) On leaves held in honor. Exalted, purified. (Written) by the hands of scribes, Honorable and Pious and Just.” Yusuf Ali, in the commentary to his translation, 1934, wrote that when the revelation to this sura was made, forty two or forty five others had been written and kept by Muslims in Mecca (out of total of 114). The other reference is surah 85 verses 21 and 22: “Nay, this is a glorious reading on a preserved tablet.” Surah 56, verses 77-80: “This is a glorious reading on a book well kept, which none but the purified teach. This is a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds.” Surah 25, verse 5: “They said: Tales of the ancient which he has caused to be written and they are dictated to him morning and evening.”
Here we have a reference to the accusations made by the Prophet’s enemies who treated him a s a imposter. They spread the rumor that stories of antiquity were being revealed to him and he was getting them written down. The main point is that this verse refers to the act of making a written record that is pointed out by Muhammad (saws) enemies themselves.
A surah that came after Hegira makes one last mention of the leaves on which these divine instructions were written down. Surah 98, verses 2 and 3: “An (apostle) from God recites leaves, kept pure where are decrees right and straight.”
The Quran itself therefore provided indications as to the fact that it was set down in writing at the time of the prophet. It is a known fact that there were certain scribes in his following, the most famous of whom, Zaid Ibn Thabit, has left his name to posterity.
In the preface to his French translation to the Quran (1971), Professor Hamidullah gives an excellent description of the conditions that prevailed when the text of Quran was written, lasting up until the time of prophet’s death:
“The sources all agree in stating that whenever a fragment of Quran was revealed, the Prophet called one of his literate companion and dictated it to him, indicating the same time the exact position of the new fragment in the fabric of what had already been received…Descriptions note that Muhammad asked the scribe to re-read to him what had been written, so that he could correct the deficiencies … Another famous story tells how every year in the month of Ramadan, the Prophet would recite the whole of the Quran (so far revealed) to Gabriel…, that in Ramadan preceding Muhammad’s death, Gabriel had made him recite it twice…It is known how since prophet’s time, Muslims acquired the habit of keeping vigil during Ramadan, and reciting the whole of the Quran in addition to the usual prayers expected of them. Several sources add that Muhammad’s scribe Zaid was present at this final bringing-together of the texts. Elsewhere, numerous other personalities are mentioned as well.”
At the same time however, Muhammad recommended that faithful learn the Quran by heart. They did this for a part if not all the text recited during prayers. Thus there were Hafizun who knew the whole Quran by heart and spread it abroad. The method of doubly preserving the text both in writing and by memorization proved to be extremely precious.
Not long after the Prophet’s death (632), his successor Abu Bakr, the first Caliph of Islam, asked Zaid Ibn Tabhit, to make a copy; this he did. On Omar’s initiative (the second Caliph), Zaid consulted all the formation he could assemble at Medina: the witness of the Hafizun, copies of book written on various materials belonging to private individuals, all with the object of avoiding possible errors in transcription. Thus an extremely faithful copy of the book was obtained.
Uthman sent copies of text of the recension to the centers of the Islamic Empire and that is why, according to professor Hamidullah, copies attributed to Uthman exist in Tashkent and Istanbul. Apart from one or two possible mistakes in copying, the oldest document known to the present day, that are to be found throughout the Islamic world, are identical; the same is true for the documents preserved in Europe (there are fragments in the Bibliothique Nationale in Paris which, according to the experts date from eighth to ninth centuries AD.). The numerous ancient texts that are known to be in existence all agree except for very minor variations which do not change the general meaning of the text at all.