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The Unlettered Prophet (48)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


Collection and Compilation of the Qur’an


The Qur’an was the greatest wealth that the Prophet (sws) held in custody for his ummah. It was the message of God which he had been assigned to deliver to all humans and his ummah shares with him the responsibility of protecting it until the Day of Judgement. He was never forgetful of fulfilling his responsibilities towards the Qur’an.

There are some facts related to the Qur’an that are determined and proven through revelation. One is that arrangements have been made while revealing the Qur’an that no falsehood may enter into it. Further that God Himself would protect it. It is said:


We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it [from corruption]. (15:9)  

And indeed it is a Book of exalted power. No falsehood can approach it from before or behind it: It is sent down by One Full of Wisdom, Worthy of all Praise. (41:41-42) 

Secondly, compilation of the Qur’an, which was being revealed in the form of different verses according to the needs of the times in a coherent manner and then read out to the Prophet (sws) was also the responsibility of God. The Prophet (sws) was instructed that once he had heard it according to the new sequence, he was to read it out to his audience. It was said: 

It is for Us to collect it and to promulgate it: But when We have promulgated it, follow thou its recital. (75:17-18) 

These promises were fulfilled by giving the responsibility of bringing the revelations to Gabriel, the strongest and most trusted of angels. Interference from devils and jinn was prevented by placing guards against their entry into the skies. Gabriel revealed the Qur’an directly upon the Prophet’s heart, thereby closing all routes of possible interference by devils. Then the Qur’an indicated right at its beginning that God has made the pen the tool of education. It was said:  

Proclaim! And thy Lord is the Most Bountiful, He Who taught [the use of] the pen. (96:3-4)

 In other words, the requirement was that the Qur’an be written and protected in the form of a book. Hence, the Prophet (sws) made arrangements for the Qur’an to be written down while he was still in Makkah. At this, the Quraysh saw an opportunity to say that he created the verses himself and had a few people who kept writing it down day and night. The Prophet (sws) continued this process throughout his life until the complete Qur’an was available to his ummah in its final sequence.

The above verse from Surah Qayamah indicates that these promises were to be fulfilled during the life of the Prophet (sws) and not after his demise. Otherwise, what would have been the relevance of the instruction: “After We have recited the complete Qur’an to you, then you should do the same for people?” The obvious meaning is that the Qur’an was to be compiled according to the instructions from God, the Prophet (sws) would recite it to his people accordingly and, after having it written down as per the new arrangement, he would deliver it to his ummah. Thus, it was necessary that after the complete revelation of the Qur’an, he would need to have sufficient time to carry out this responsibility himself.

Let us see now how the Prophet (sws) fulfilled this responsibility.  

Recitation of the Qur’an

The first responsibility of the Prophet (sws) towards the Qur’an was to recite its verses. It was his routine that however much Qur’an was revealed, he would recite it to the Idolaters repeatedly, so that their hearts became clean and they would be inclined to accept the truth. In Makkah, he recited the verses loudly, sitting close to the Ka‘bah, so that his voice could carry to the Idolaters and catch their attention. This new teaching was a blessing for those who had already accepted Islam and they absorbed it eagerly, corrected their words and deeds in its light, kept it safe in their hearts and discussed it among themselves. In this manner, the Qur’an entered their lives and became the source of expanding their intellect.  

Memorizing the Qur’an

Collective prayers were arranged from the time of the Makkan phase of the Prophet’s preaching. The Prophet (sws) used to recite the longer surahs during fajr and ‘isha’. In this way, the part of the Qur’an that was recited again and again was memorized by the faithful. Some companions loved the Qur’an immensely and they would continue to memorize it. The Prophet (sws) asked such companions to recite the Qur’an frequently. The books of Ahadith include narratives about ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud (rta) and Ubayy ibn Ka‘b (rta) reciting the Qur’an to him.

Those companions who remembered more of the Qur’an were given the responsibility to teach the new converts to Islam. It is narrated that ‘Ammar ibn Yasir (rta) taught the Qur’an to ‘Umar’s (rta) sister, Fatimah bint al-Khattab (rta). The first ever school of teaching Qur’an was the Dar al-Arqam, where the companions gathered and learnt the Qur’an and memorized it. It was a consequence of the love of the companions for the Qur’an that when Najashi called the Muslims who had migrated to Abyssinia to his court and asked them about their views about Jesus (sws), Ja‘far ibn Abi Ṭalib (rta) began to recite the verses in the Qur’an which directly addressed Najashi’s queries. 

Teaching Qur’an

At the time of the Bay‘ah of ‘Aqbah, the tribes of Aws and Khazraj requested the Prophet (sws) that someone be sent with them to teach the new faith to them. The Prophet (sws) sent Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr (rta) to Yathrab to teach Qur’an to the Muslims. After migration he sent many teachers to various tribes for the same purpose. When, after some tribes went back on their promises and caused harm to the teachers, the Prophet (sws) had a raised platform constructed close to the Masjid-e Nabawi and sent a message to the tribes that they should send their men to Madinah to be taught the Qur’an. The people who came stayed on those platforms, memorized the Qur’an and learned religion from the Prophet (sws). The Islamic society fulfilled their entire needs. Those people were called people of Suffah. According to narratives from Abu Da’ud, ‘Ubadah ibn Samit (rta) was assigned as their Qur’an teacher. Once a group had learned the essentials of the faith, it returned to its tribe and another group would take its place.

In the Islamic society, the people who were more knowledgeable about the Qur’an were given more respect. The Prophet (sws) would give them preference over others and had more confidence in their advice. People tended to gather in groups and discuss and ponder over the Qur’an. It has been stated in narratives that when the Prophet used to come to the Mosque and observe such enthusiasm, he would indicate his pleasure and sit down amongst the people. There are many examples of the Prophet’s preference given to young men for governance of tribes, based on their understanding of the Qur’an. Makkah was a centre of noblemen and big names could have been considered for its management. But after the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet (sws) made a young man, ‘Itab ibn Usayd (rta) its governor. The reason was his love for the Qur’an.  

Documenting the Qur’an

The Prophet (sws) continued with documenting of the Qur’an. Books contain 40 names, more or less, of companions who contributed to writing of the revelation. These revelations include both Makkan and Madinan verses. Whenever some verses were revealed, the Prophet (sws) called the companion who was skilled in writing and instructed him to write down the verses under a particular surah, after a particular verse and before another verse. This instruction was given because it was not required to write the Qur’an in the chronology in which it was revealed, but it was being compiled according to the instructions of God and given a new sequence. Such a sequence is called setting; that is, a sequence determined according to God’s instructions. The Qur’an is written and recited in the same sequence to date. Today, enemies are attempting to recompile the Qur’an according to their made up sequence. They claim that the current sequence was set up by the companions and Zayd ibn Thabit (rta) and needs reform because it contains editing errors. The reality is that this sequence was formed under surveillance of the Prophet (rta), with instructions from God. There was no input from humans. Orientalists have made many efforts to recompile the Qur’an but their own researchers have rejected these as useless work and no such effort has gained any popularity.

The Prophet (sws) placed the written verses in his special compilation of the Qur’an. Initially, this book was placed in a box close to a pillar of the Masjid-e Nabawi. This pillar came to be called “Pillar of the Book”. The companions sat there and wrote verses as they needed. Narratives quote Zayd ibn Thabit’s (rta) statement:  

We used to compile the Qur’an from pages of the Prophet.1 

Later, when conspiracies of the hypocrites increased, the Prophet (sws) had the Book removed from the Mosque and placed within the room of Hafsah (rta). 

Discussion with Gabriel     

The arrangement for the Prophet (sws) to listen to the Qur’an according to a sequence as determined by God was made by God Himself. The Prophet (sws) retired to the Mosque for i‘tikaf during every Ramadan and would hold discussions with the Trustworthy Gabriel (asm) then. Once the Qur’an was completed, the Prophet did i‘tikaf for twenty days during the last Ramadan and recited the Qur’an twice to Gabriel. In this manner, while the collection of the Qur’an was completed, it was recited to the Prophet (sws) in its final form according to God’s promise and then he recited it in the same form to Gabriel and taught his ummah similarly.

It is a proven fact from narratives that many people had made copies of the original book in possession of the Prophet (sws) for their personal use. According to one narrative, the Prophet (sws) gave prediction of a double reward after life to the one who read from the book, rather than from memory. Obviously this was only possible in the circumstance of availability of books during his lifetime.2 According to yet another narrative, the Prophet (sws) forbade people from taking the written form with them on journeys to avoid any chance of the Idolaters gaining access to its pages and the possibility that they may destroy them.3  

According to narratives, the Prophet (sws) had the Qur’an written on bones, wooden boards, leather and other similar items. People infer from this that the Qur’an was not available in a compiled form. This can be accepted only in the situation if the Prophet (sws) was not familiar with any other form of writing material. The fact is that just as there is the indication to make the pen the instrument of education, there is also reference to the riqq-e manshur (open parchment of). Riqq is a thin piece of skin. This material which is extremely strong and lasting has been used for writing the Torah from ancient times. A roll was made of it and it would be opened and its pieces spread out and the Torah written on it would be recited. This is why they were referred to as the riqq-e manshur. Even today, when Jews take out processions for the Torah, they walk with this roll in front of them. The letters of the Prophet (sws) that were protected from the ravages of time and are found in museums were written on this parchment. When the Prophet (sws) was familiar with this material of his times, and used it for his letters, why would he not have used it in case of the Qur’an, since it had also been referred to in the Qur’an? Hence, in our view, the copy which he had had compiled and placed in Hafsah’s room must have been written on parchment. It would not have been necessary to have it written on bones and planks. If bones, planks or skin were used, this must have been during journeys or temporarily, when parchment could not be arranged.

Thus, in our opinion, the Prophet (sws) had met his obligations towards custodianship of the Qur’an before his demise. This trust was safe within the hearts of many through memory and a written compiled copy was also made available. After this, it was the Muslim ummah’s responsibility to publish the Qur’an in this form and to also memorize it to maintain its protection. Thank God that the ummah has carried out both tasks.     

Narrative of Qur’an Compilation during Abu Bakr’s Caliphate

For us, the situation was just as has been described above. However, ideas have been floated about compilation of the Qur’an during the times of the Caliphs. Although this matter is related to the time after the demise of the Prophet (sws) and hence not related to our topic, but because it suggests negative implications for the supreme performance of the Prophet (sws), it becomes necessary to review such narratives comprehensively. The first narrative which has been popularized by Imam Bukhari by placing it in his Sahih, is that many memorizers of the Qur’an were martyred in the Battle of Yamamah during the caliphate of Abu Bakr (rta). ‘Umar (rta) thought that if this continued in future wars, there was a danger of some part of the Qur’an being lost and no one who knew it be alive. He convinced Abu Bakr (rta) to compile in the form of a book the Qur’an that the Prophet (sws) had instructed to be written. Therefore, he gave this task to Zayd ibn Thabit (rta). After great difficulty and effort, verses were located from many sources and were written down. The last verses of Surah Bara’ah were obtained from Khuzaymah or Abu Khuzaymah.4 

If this narrative is accepted, we would need to relinquish many facts. The promise of God to collate the Qur’an seems to be, God forbid, unfulfilled. If the Qur’an had been collected, what difficulty would Zayd ibn Thabit (rta) have faced that he did not use this collection, but went searching for its verses? Secondly, we would need to believe that the muhajirun and the ansar remained with the Prophet (sws) for such a long time, but were not able to be blessed by memorizing the complete Qur’an. So that when the search for verses began, no memorizer of the Qur’an who could have said that he memorized it by listening to the Prophet (sws) came forward. If there was no memorizer of the Qur’an among the earlier companions, where did the ones who were martyred during the battle of Yamamah come from? It seems from the wording of the narrative that the complete Qur’an was not available with the martyrs of Yamamah either; other people would memorize a few parts only. This is why ‘Umar (rta) felt the danger of losing some part of the Qur’an. If the Muslims of earlier times memorized the full Qur’an, what was Umar’s point? Thirdly, by accepting this narrative, one cannot but deduce that the trust placed with the Prophet (sws), of the custody of the Qur’an and its communication throughout the world, God forbid, was not fulfilled. Neither was the Qur’an collated at its original sequence, nor did people memorize it accordingly. Fourthly, it also follows that, the enemies of Islam would like to use this narrative to get accepted the notion that the current format of the Qur’an is dubious and that it is doubtful whether the current Qur’an is according to the original. Perhaps some verses may not have been included and may have remained with some people and could not be available at the time. The blame for this could easily be laid upon the Right Guided Caliphs for having compiled an incomplete Qur’an and established it among the ummah.

As a Hadith, if the authenticity of this narrative is assessed, its original and only narrator is found to be Zayd ibn Thabit (rta), who gives news about it to only one person, ‘Ubayd ibn al-Sabbaq, who, in turn, passes it on to one person, Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri. He communicates this to four people: Yunus, Shu‘ayb, Ibrahim and ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Khalid. By coincidence, all four authoritative narrators are Shiites. According to Imam Bukhari’s own research, ‘Ubayd ibn al-Sabbaq died in 118 AH at the age of 68 years. So, his date of birth should be 51 AH. There are many narratives about the date of the death of Zayd ibn Thabit (rta): 45 AH, 48 AH and 54 AH. ‘Ubayd would not be born in the first two years, and, according to the third narrative, he would have been only 2 or three years old at the time of Zayd’s death. So, there is no question of Zayd being the source of this Hadith. Thus this narrative remained a piece of information from a single person, to another and then to another, during the first century of the hijrah calendar and there was no other witness to it. Had the event of the compilation of the Qur’an actually happened, it was such a great and magnificent one that scores of companions would have been its narrators and they would have narrated it with great pride that they, too, were associated with this noble deed. Thus, we believe that this narrative is a self concocted story and it never occurred in reality.  

Collation of the Qur’an during the Caliphate of ‘Uthman (rta)    

 Another narrative is from the time when ‘Uthman (rta) was the caliph. Narrators state that when people recited the Qur’an, differences emerged when some people declared their recitation to be the correct one and others believed that they were right. As a result, fights would ensue. When this situation was brought to the notice of the third Caliph, it was realized that people were not reading the Qur’an as per its original pronunciation, but were using their own regional accent and elocution. ‘Uthman (rta) formed a committee of three members who were experts in the Quraysh language and instructed them that since the Qur’an had been revealed upon the Quraysh, it was to be written in this language by Zayd ibn Thabit (rta). Zayd carried out the writing and many copies of the Qur’an were sent to the main cities under official arrangements. People were asked to use only those copies to make additional ones for their use and to read the Qur’an in the Quraysh language only. For this service, ‘Uthman (rta) is also known as the collector of the Qur’an.5

This narrative, too, has been stated as coming from only Anas ibn Malik (rta), and the only person who received it from him and communicated it onward was Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri. No other companion or a subsequent follower of the companions related this grand piece of work. If this narrative is accepted, then it must also be accepted that no one knew that a verse which said: “by revealing this Qur’an to you in your language, we have made it very appropriate,” had been revealed and that, according to which, it was the language of the Quraysh that was the only language for the Qur’an that was acceptable to people and people had been learning and teaching the same. This language was also preferred and liked by all Arabs and they had no issues with reciting the Qur’an. If ‘Uthman (rta) is considered to the collector of the Qur’an, what value does the promise in the verse “It is for Us to collect it,” (75:17) hold, in which the Collector of the Qur’an is God Himself. It is possible that ‘Uthman (rta), as the Caliph, had copies of the Qur’an made and dispatched to various cities. Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri then gave it the form of a tale in order to lend credence to the story of collection of the Qur’an by Abu Bakr (rta) and thus render the protection of the Qur’an a dubious reality.  

Variant Readings of the Qur’an  

As far as the readings of the Qur’an in various languages and accents is concerned, these matters relate to later times. All famous readings came in the second or third century hijrah, whereas the Qur’an was being recited in one single manner since the times of the Prophet (sws). Practically, the ummah did not popularize these readings and they were limited to the pages of a book. Sometimes, a reader would recite along these lines in a gathering and receive applause. The ummah’s unanimous consent was the same that remains the reading of common people. This is why the Qur’an was always written according to this reading. The oldest copies of the Qur’an found in museums have been written in the same style. No one has dared to publish a Qur’an with a different style. Even during the decline of Muslims, a Qur’an using the recitation of Warsh ‘an Nafi‘ was published in 1930. Following this example, another one was published in Sudan in 1978 on the recitation of al-Duri ‘an Abi ‘Amr and in Tunis in 1981, using the recitation of Qalun ‘an Nafi‘. These recitations are now used only in some parts of North and West Africa. The Qur’an of the rest of the Islamic world is the same as that we have in our hands.

Some people who recite the Qur’an have promulgated false stories to make different versions popular and get the ummah to swallow this bitter pill, but they have not succeeded. If such styles are accepted, one becomes guilty of changing the Qur’an and one’s faith in the promise of God to protect the Qur’an falters. It is an absolute lie that by using these readings, no changes occur in the meanings of the Qur’an. If you deliberate on these objectively, you realize that some people have made additions to the content of the Qur’an. Some have changed the diacritical marks, thereby altering the meanings. Because in the beginning, there were no dots and marks on the content, it seems that some people tried their hand at allocating whatever marks they wished to on the words and named them readings.

The pronunciations and cadences of the Qur’an are unlimited. People have attempted to limit these to 14, 10 or 7. If these are accepted as a part of religion, then it must also be accepted that God’s promise for protecting the Qur’an has been put aside and people changed the Qur’an. The reality is that there is only a single reading of the Qur’an and it has been accepted by a large number of Muslims. It was established by the Prophet (sws) himself, he had it written down and kept safe during his lifetime. The Muslim ummah has protected it and kept it untouched. Billions of people have memorized it and have not allowed attempts at alteration to be successful.            


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)



1. Al-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fi ‘ulum al-Qur’an, vol .1, 57.

2. Mishkat, Bab Fada’il al-Qur’an, 180.

3. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 2, 143.

4. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, no. 4986.

5. Ibid., 4987.


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