The Authentic Compilation of the Qur’an versus the (Relatively-Speaking) Inadequate Preservation of ALL the Other Previous Holy Books.
One ought to be awed by the material rigour in which the Qur’an was preserved and safe-guarded from corruption when compared to all the other previous sacred dispensations. Glory be to God.
Read a ‘basic-intro‘ here.
In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful
A Preliminary Note on Etiquette
Of course, it is terribly difficult broaching this subject without seeming to hurt the feelings of those that love and live by their religions. First and foremost, the objective here is not to hurt anyone. I want that to be clear. Read ‘Discussing the Truth. How?’. Rather, what is attempted is to try and get through to the truth of what we have. We try, therefore, to look at the historicity of the sacred books. Please, ensure you read the last section, ‘What this means for my religion?’ before you go.
Let’s now briefly run through the preservation models of some of the big religions.
“Hinduism is unlike any of the other major historic religions. It does not claim an identifiable human founder or a specific origin in history.”1
So, where has this ancient religion come from? In that, who was its originator? What are the details?
In its defence, points are made that:
1) ‘Traditional Hinduism preserved surprisingly much of the character of [its indiginous] native traditions.’2 And to explain this, we learn that ‘the large and old Hindu civilisation quietly appropriated whatever was brought into it from outside, absorbed it, transformed it, and made it part of its own.’ Response: This suggests a combination of assimilation and syntheses. Whatever was the original religion could have transformed significantly to no longer quite promote in essentials its original form. How intact is it to its original form? Can we clearly formulate what that original form was? Or will this be merely a speculative inquiry now that the means to conclusively suggest one is gone?
2) ‘Hinduism is a state of mind rather than an assembly of facts or a chronological sequence of events.’3 and
3) ‘Hindus call their religion sanatana dharma, the eternal law, and everything of religious importance is termed anadi, beginningless’.4
Response: Both points 2) and 3) seem to side step the demand to pin down answers to do with what was the original (or first) version of (whatever it was that became) ‘Hinduism’ in a neat and clear way.
4) Indeed, Klostermaier indicates that there are problems in constructing a historic schema of Hinduism, as ‘the dates given by experts often vary by thousands of years!’5 (See below)
‘While much of [Hindu Scripture] is accepted as divinely revealed only by believers in particular communities, there is a large corpus of books called Vedas that is accepted by all Hindus as ‘sacred’.6 The term ‘Veda’ means ‘(sacred) knowledge’ and can be sub divided into two parts: ‘sruti (‘that which has been heard’, which connotes to ‘revelation’ and ‘truth’) and smriti (‘that which has been remembered’ which is a reference to codes of law, history and old interpretive literature).7 The Vedas were written in archaic (Vedic) Sanskrit, a ‘refined language’ that was the preserve of the ‘Hindu elite’.8 The oldest part of the Vedas is the RgVeda. Schwartzberg suggests the development of the Vedas was from 1,200 BCE9, Boyce, notes it as circa 2,000 BCE10, whilst Klostermaier, himself, suggests that the Vedic tradition possibly began as early as 6,000 BCE and the specific canon of the RgVeda being formed by circa 4,000 BCE.11 However, this is Klostermaier’s own ‘tentative periodization’ which he admits ‘most Western experts will probably object’ to.12 In any case, the ‘writing down of sacred texts was apparently forbidden for a long time, their collection, memorisation, and recitation was central to ancient Indian traditions’.13 They were committed to writing, probably some time after 300 BCE.14 The earliest extant copy of the RgVeda manuscript is relatively late – from 1464 CE – and there are possibly at least 80 extant copies of the RgVeda.15
It is the words that were ‘divinely revealed’ – the revelation – that is of particular interest. But despite the archaic nature of Hinduism’s origins, the fact that the original words were stored orally for such a long time before being written down is problematic. We don’t know who the scribes were, or the process of writing down in order to preserve the full integrity of the ‘truth’. These are important issues that, I believe, haunts the current validity of the Hindu tradition.
- Name of revealed work: The Vedas
- Revelation, first given to: ?
- Language of founder: ?
- Oral revelation theoretical age: circa 2000 BCE
- Obscure zone: circa 2000 BCE to 1462 CE
- Written and compiled by: ?
- Date written (Theoretical): circa 300 BCE
- Extant copy earliest date: UNESCO Memory of World Register: 1464 CE
- Extant copy earliest language: Vedic Sanskrit (dead language)
- No of Extant Manuscripts: RgVeda: At least 80.
I’ve included Zoroastrianism as it is an ancient religion and still has devotees.
Zoroastrianism is the teaching of the Prophet Zarathustra based in the region of Iran. The sacred books of Zarathustra are the Avesta (The Injunction). ‘The Avesta is composed in two stages of an otherwise unrecorded Eastern Iranian language: ‘Gathic’ Avestan, circa 2,000 BCE [similar to Sanskrit of the Hindu’s RgVeda] and ‘Younger’ Avestan. Gathic Avestan takes its name from the chief texts to survive in this dialect, i.e. the seventeen hymns composed by the Prophet himself’16 Some of the Younger Avestan text is ‘presented as if directly revealed to him by God’,17 but regardless, the whole Avesta is believed to be ‘inspired by his teachings’ in any case.18
Again, the problem here is that though the texts may be said to have been ‘composed by him’ or ‘revealed to him’ or ‘inspired by his teachings’, we still don’t really know what specific parts we currently possess is directly his.
The ‘Gatha’ (hymn, poem, psalm) is poetry ‘with meaning densely packed into subtle and allusive words’ and since they are the ‘only examples of this tradition to survive in Iran… this literary isolation, together with great antiquity, means that they contain many words of unknown and uncertain meaning.’19 And ‘only a few verses can be understood by themselves’.20
The shortcoming of this is clear. Possessing fragments of a sacred text, much of which the meaning is now unclear, renders the current text problematic as, obviously, the full meaning is lost.
Zarathustra is thought to have been present between 1400 and 1200 BCE21 and during his time Iranians were not familiar with writing. ‘All their religious works were handed down orally; it was not until probably the fifth century [CE] that they were at last committed to writing, in the ‘Avestan’ alphabet, especially invented for the purpose.’22 The oldest extant manuscript is the Sogdian manuscript dated to the tenth century CE and the next one is three hundred years later in the thirteenth century CE23. The majority go back to the eighteenth century CE.24 ‘Most of the different types of the extant Avestan manuscripts probably go back to one single manuscript.’25 There appears to be over 90 extant manuscripts of the Avesta in existence, although some of these are fragments and many are from the later languages (Middle Persian (Pahlavi), Sanskrit or Arabic).26
What we can see here is that, again, the sacred books were written down considerably late. But their extant copy is so recent (in relative terms) that to piece together what was originally revealed would be nigh on impossible. We seem to be seeing a pattern with each of these religious traditions.
- Revelation, first given to: Zoroaster
- Name of revealed work: The Avesta
- Language of founder: Avestan
- Oral revelation theoretical age: 1400 – 1200 BCE
- Obscure zone: 1400 – 1200 BCE to 10c CE
- Written and compiled by: ?
- Date written (Theoretical): 5c CE
- Extant copy earliest date: Sogdian manuscript: 10c CE
- Extant copy earliest language: Avestan (dead language)
- No of Extant Manuscripts: Avesta: Over 90.
‘The Buddhist scriptures are faithful to [the] spirit [of Buddhism] and seem to tell us little about the details of Gotama’s life and personality. It is obviously difficult, therefore, to write a biography of the Buddha that will meet the modern criteria, because we have very little information that can be considered historically sound.’27‘
The point being made is self evident: although we have evidence of the Buddha’s life it is not entirely or sufficiently reliable. This raises questions over the integrity of the religion in terms of whether the Buddha’s message originally taught is the same as the one we now possess. We’ll never be sure.
Armstrong suggests that the ‘process of preserving the traditions about Buddha’s life and teachings began shortly after his death in 483BCE’29 by traveling monks. The written canon of his life and teachings was originally ‘orally preserved and probably not written down until the first century BCE.’30 That’s about 300-400 years later. Not only this, but Gotama may have spoken Magadhan31 (an early North Indian dialect) but the ‘most useful texts [about the Buddha’s life and teachings] are those written in Pali, a north Indian dialect of uncertain provenance, which seems to have been close to Magadhan.’32 So what is suggested is that the disciples disseminated the learning orally over a few hundred years, and when it was committed to writing – into the Pali Canon – this was done not in the original language of Gotama but in the sister-language of Pali.
What the texts suggest is that about fifty years after the Buddha’s death, ‘the monks held a council to establish a means of assessing the various extant doctrines and practices’.33 However, this wasn’t written down (as indicated above). Rather, they set the teaching into verse and it was memorised via the development of a ‘formulaic and repetitive style’ helped also by the practice of yoga that gave them ‘phenomenally good memories.’34 After a hundred years after the Buddha’s death, there was a second council (The Coucil of Vesali)35 where the form of the present Pali Canon36 had begun to take shape. It was called the Tripitaka (Three baskets) because the scrolls, when they were finally written down were kept in three separate receptacles.37 What is important to note is prior to its being written down, at the time of the second council, ‘there was a schism in the Buddhist movement, which split up into a number of sects, where each school took these old texts but rearranged them to fit its own teaching.’38
‘It becomes clear from the foregoing analysis that in speaking of a Buddhist Canon one has to admit that it is both vast in extent and complex in character. While the earlier and more orthodox schools of Buddhism reserved the term Canonical to refer to the Body of literature, the greater part of which could be reasonably ascribed to the Buddha himself, other traditions which developed further away from the centre of activity of the Buddha and at a relatively later date choose to lay under the term Canon the entire mosaic of Buddhist literature in their possession, which is of varied authorship and is at times extremely heterogeneous in character.’39
These facts have significant repercussions over the validity of the Buddhist religion insofar as we are interested in this vital question: “Is the religion of Buddhism, the very same religion as taught by the Buddha?’ I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. But we certainly have a tradition that calls itself Buddhism and traces itself to Buddha in the form that it does. This is all well and good. No problem. But if we want to know if his religion is true to what was originally taught with tremendous certainty – especially after comparing it to the certainty we might gain from the more robust historicity of other, later religious traditions, then we ought to be more careful when probing for the truth.
- ‘Revelation’, first given to: Buddha
- Name of ‘revealed’ work: The Tipitaka
- Language of founder: Magadhan
- Oral ‘revelation’ theoretical age: 6 – 5c BCE
- Obscure zone: 6 – 5c BCE to 75 CE
- Schism: 4c BCE
- Written and compiled by: ?
- Date written (Theoretical): 1c BCE (i.e. Pali Canon: 29 BCE)
- Extant copy earliest date:
- Extant copy earliest language: Sanskrit (dead language)
- No of Extant Manuscripts:
- Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts in Nepal: 38142
- Palm Leaf Manuscripts in Nepal, circa 14c CE: 1084 etc (Extensive manuscripts but late dating).
I will not write extensively about the Biblical Works because much has been written already, from historians. I will attempt to summarise the key findings only and you will be able to see patterns, as already indicated.
‘The Hebrew Bible or TaNaKh, an acronym referring to the traditional Jewish division of the Bible into Torah (Teaching), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings), is the founding document of the people of Israel,’43
‘Most Jews hold that the books of the Tanakh were written by prophets and kings from the time of Moses (1393-1271 BCE) until approximately 450 BCE. Written over the course of at least eight centuries, the Tanakh represents a sample of ancient Israel’s large literary output. The writings that make up the Tanakh were written down or copied on parchment scrolls for centuries before they were collected and declared to be a single, canonical unit.
Because the Tanakh is a collection of many different writings by many different authors over a long period of time, scholars have found it impossible to ascertain exactly when it was composed or even when it came into existence in its current form. Historians do know, however, that the Torah was the first section of the Tanakh to have been considered sacred scripture. It was often recorded on five different scrolls, but was long considered a single and complete work. Historians argue that it was canonized as scripture before the Jews returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile (587 – 538 BCE).’44
‘The oldest existing record of the canonized Tanakh is the Masoretic Text from the 10th century CE, but even though no earlier copies are extant, historians know that the Tanakh had already been in existence for centuries.’45
In terms of the Torah, ‘traditionally, Moses was thought to be the author of the books, the content of which was given to him directly from God. Many modern scholars, however, argue that multiple authors likely contributed to the books.’46
Again, the issue here is to do with: 1) who specifically wrote what? 2) When was it written? (That is, was this (the version we have now) the same as the original teaching written earlier?) 3) With so many actors contributing to its compilation and over such a great time period, can significant errors creep in?
- Revelation, first given to: Moses (Peace be upon him)
- Name of revealed work: Torah, specifically (But the Tanakh, generally)
- Language of founder: Middle Hebrew or Aramaic (Ancient Egyptian?)
- Oral revelation theoretical age: 14 – 13c BCE
- Obscure zone: 14 – 13c BCE to c150 BCE – 70 CE
- Notable Schisms47:
- 10c BCE: First Temple period
- 8c BCE: Samaritans
- 516 BCE to 70 CE: Second Temple period
- Written and compiled by: Various prophets, kings, scribes
- Date written (Theoretical): till 450 BCE
- Extant copy earliest date: Dead Sea Scroll Tanakh: c150 BCE – 70 CE48
- Masoretic Text Tanakh: 10c CE
- Extant copy earliest language: Dead Sea Scroll Tanakh: Late Hebrew, Aramaic and Ancient Greek
- Masoretic Text Tanakh: Late Hebrew
- No of Extant Manuscripts: Dead Sea Scroll Tanakh: 22049
The life and teaching of Jesus (peace be upon him) is recorded in the New Testament. How was it recorded? And what is the level of our confidence that the book captures what Jesus (peace be upon him) definitely said? The New Testament begins with the Four Gospels. Gospels means ‘Good News’50 Putting aside the debate of whether Jesus (peace be upon him) existed, in terms of his brith, it is now believed that Jesus (peace be upon him) was born somewhere between 6 and 4 BCE. And in terms of his ministry, it is believed that this began somewhere soon after 27 to 29 CE 51 Using this as a guide, we can comment on the gap between this and when the Gospels were allegedly written. We learn that the oldest of the Gospels we possess is that of Mark, then the Synoptic Gospels of Luke and Matthew, and finally John (said to be written 65–70 CE, 80–85 CE, 80–85 CE, 90–100 CE, respectively)52 The teaching of Jesus (peace be upon him) may have been passed on orally prior to its being written down. When compared to previous religious dispensations, the written recording – scholars have theorised – seems to have begun as early as thirty to forty years from Jesus’ ministry (peace be upon him). The (theoretical) gap between the historical figure and his textual message (if true) has narrowed compared to other, older religious traditions, which is a positive development.
Having said that, we don’t actually know for sure who Mathew, Mark, Luke or John are. Moreover, ‘there is no guarantee that what we read now in the printed New Testament has indeed come from the pens of Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James and Jude [in any case], who are nevertheless nearly always cited as the authors of the New Testament books.’53 This is a problem, as it is a natural consideration to wonder how much of the writers’ own biases and opinions (that may run counter to Jesus’s (peace be upon him) own teaching) riddle their writings?
Furthermore, the dates of when the text were likely to have been written, though academic, is rather important. The problem is the guesswork involved given our way to an original is only via the extant copies, physically available. The actual, physical or earliest known fragments we possess of, say Mark’s Gospel is 250 CE. William L. Peterson has said, ‘to be brutally frank, we know next to nothing about the shape of the ‘autograph’ gospels; indeed, it is questionable if one can even speak of such a thing. […] the test in our critical editions today is actually a text which dates from no earlier than about 180 CE, at the earliest.’54 Although, it seems the the Gospel fragment we possess with the earliest dating from the whole New Testament is actually 125 – 175 CE – the Gospel of John (Rylands P52),55 Indeed, ‘we have only two papyri … dating back to the second century. The very texts they cover do not constitute an argument for a unique stable form of the New Testament.”56 And in terms of the sheer quantity of possessing ‘around 5,500 New Testament [Greek] manuscripts’, this does not guarantee the reliability of reclaiming the original text. ‘Michael W. Holmes tells us, [this is] ‘misleading,’ because this [does not] reveal the circumstances that approximately eighty-five percent of those manuscripts were copied in the eleventh century or later, over a millennium after the writing of the New Testament.’ With regard to the fifteen percent or so of the manuscripts that do date from the first millennium of the text’s existence, the closer one gets in time of the origins of the New Testament, the more scarce the manuscript evidence becomes.’57 And though ‘there are more than 10,000 Latin [manuscripts] alone… there is scholarly consensus that … they [also] suffer from the same weakness as the Greek manuscripts.’58
How certain can we truly be of any tampering to Jesus’s teaching (peace be upon him) in the gap that Ameri dubs the ‘Obscure Zone’ from the time of his ministry to 125 CE?
This touches on another point, and this is to do with John, and the fact that his Gospel “is very different from the other three Gospels.”59 It has been suggested that his was written later than the others (mentioned above) and his writing suggests a closer affinity to the thoughts of Paul.
‘John represents high Christology’,60 which is ‘the study of Jesus Christ, by looking at him as first, the divine son of God, and then moving downward to the view of him as a human.’61 However, Ameri notes that ‘there are no [explicit] traces of the most important Church doctrines in the Gospels – such as the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and Original Sin – so these Gospels, to start with, are not arguments in favour of the theological structure of the Church.’62
The earliest written entry in the New Testament is said to be an epistle of Paul’s titled, ‘1 Thessolonians’. It was written in 50 CE (although an extant fragment we possess is from the late 2nd or 3rd century CE).63 That is to say, the works of Paul is considered to predate the Gospels that is included in the current New Testament. One must seriously ponder, therefore, a) just who was Paul? b) What was his connection to Jesus (peace be upon him)? c) And how influential were the writings of Paul to the Christian religion that we have today? Consider also that of the 23 parts of the New Testament, Paul has written as many as 15, which is almost three quarters of it.64 If we were to discard Paul from the canon (for the mere fact that he was not one of the companions of Jesus in Jesus’s lifetime – peace be upon him) we would only have about a quarter of the New Testament left. The issue revolves around whether the direct mission of Paul and his influences on the (later?) New Testament writers might have presented the teaching of Jesus (peace be upon him) different from that of Jesus himself (peace be upon him). Considering that he was – 1) not a companion of Jesus while Jesus was alive (peace be upon him); 2) that he was an active enemy to the early Jewish Christians (prior to Paul seeing Jesus in a vision) and he was trying to think of a new plan against the Christians; and 3) his claim to be a devout Christian on a par (if not greater) than Jesus’ own companions – leaves a lot to be desired. “Most of the so-called ‘Christian heretics’ stemmed from the first century, as doctrines, not necessarily religious groups (Unitarians, Docetism, adaptionism), and that historical fact proves that the radical divergences in viewing Jesus and interpreting his message coexisted with the emergence of the four Gospels.’65
Jesus (peace be upon him) spoke Aramaic. The New Testament we possess now is translated in a range of languages, having come to the Europeans via Latin via Koine Greek. Trying to locate the definitive words of Jesus (peace be upon him) regardless of trying to solve the textual problems identified thus far, but then adding to this, by investigating shifts made via translations across languages, is seriously problematic. Eldon Epp tells us that to seek for an ‘Original Text’ by reconstruction using all of what we now possess into a unified and harmonised whole is ‘naïve’.66 And this because of the ‘multi-faceted problem of delving deeply into the near-geological history of … centuries of scholarly work.’67 This issue of ‘Original Text’ is ‘more complex than possessing Greek gospels when Jesus [peace be upon him] spoke Aramaic, because the transmission of traditions in different languages and their translation from one to another are relevant factors in that question of what is ‘original”?68. He lists at least four further reasons of complexity governing the search for an ‘Original Text’ of the New Testament:
the necessary quizzing of the canon will raise questions on ‘authority’;
the necessary quizzing of oral tradition and form criticism will raise questions on the ‘formation and transmission of pre-literary New Testament tradition;
the necessary quizzing of its ‘compositional stages’ will raise questions on ‘authorship and of the origin and unity of writings’ (touched on briefly, above);
the necessary quizzing of ‘variation’ in ‘multiple readings when no ‘original’ is … available’ will raise questions about the singular reading made by the devised ‘original’.69
Epp concludes, by agreeing with Conybeare’s observation in the early twentieth century that ‘the ultimate (New Testament) text, if there ever was one that deserves to be so called, is for ever irrecoverable.’70 The eclectic method of assessing all the canon in order to create an ‘original’ lacks any ‘objective criteria to reach the ‘original’.71
- Revelation, first given to: Jesus (Peace be upon him)
- Name of revealed work: The Gospels or the New Testament
- Language of founder: Aramaic
- Oral revelation theoretical date: 27 – 29 CE
- Obscure zone: 27 – 29 CE to 125 CE
Rise in ‘heretical’ doctrines within the first century CE prior to first extant manuscript
Paul views of Jesus (peace be upon him) shapes the Christian Church’s leaning
Byzantine Emperor endorses politically Paul’s version of Christ and his teaching, officially with the Council of Nicea in 325 CE.
- Written and compiled by: Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James and Jude are cited – but we cannot guarantee this.
- Date written (Theoretical): 60 CE
- Extant copy earliest date: Gospel of John (Rowlands P52) fragment: 125 CE
- Extant copy earliest language: Koine Greek
- No of Extant Manuscripts:
- Greek New Testament: 5,500
- Latin New Testament: 10,000
The history of the Qur’anic compilation is, first of all, fully recorded. ‘The Qur’an’ is the Arabic word for ‘The Recitation’, which hints at its primary oral basis. It was not revealed at once, but over twenty three years, starting in 610 CE, few verses at a time. It has 114 surahs (books or chapters).
The Time of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)
‘The Prophet was as keen to preserve the text of the Qur’an as to convey its message.’72 The Qur’an states a promise: ‘Indeed, it is We [Allah] who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.’ (Q 15:9) The preservation of the Qur’an was a ‘crucial issue’ and ‘it was not a late concern.’
Muhammad (peace be upon him) was so eager to memorise the verses, for fear of forgetting them73 when he used to recite it to Jibreel (peace on him).
Knowing the ease with which the revelation could be corrupted by human influence – especially at the initial stage, the Prophet ‘announced that any … who wrote down anything except the Qur’an as he had recited it, should get rid of it,’ thereby keeping it ‘free from additions and deletions.’74
The nascent Islamic civilisation revolved itself around the Qur’an, as instructed by the Prophet:
a) Scribes were to ‘write down each verse revealed to him shortly after he heard it from the angel Jibril.’
b) ‘He recited Qur’an [regularly, consistently] during prayers,’ (five times a day);
c) ‘He asked his Companions to recite it in front of him.’ (Bukhari: 5103; Muslim -s: 1903-5)
d) ‘He ordered those who had learnt it to teach it to others.’ (Ibn Hanbal, Munad: 23437)
e) He encouraged the Qur’an to be central in Muslim life, saying: ‘The best among you is the one who learns the Qur’an and teaches it.’ (Bukhari -s: 5027-8)
f) ‘He made learning Qur’an a scale of piety among Muslims’, stating: ‘With this Book Allah exhalts some people and lowers others.’ (Muslim: 269)
g) ‘He urged Muslims to make a practice of reading the Qur’an so they would be rewarded generously in the hereafter.’ (Tirmidhi: 3158)
h) ‘He gave the privilege of leading the prayers to those who had memorised the Qur’an, or learned it the best.’ (Abu Dawud -s:582-90)
I) ‘He condemned the forgetting of memorised verses as a grievious sin’, and encouraged Muslims to ‘keep refreshing [their] knowledge of the Qur’an.’ (see Bukhari -s: 5084-6, Muslim -s: 1878-80)75
Ameri explains that ‘the Mushaf (the written Qur’an) was (1) memorised and (2) recorded from the time of the Prophet on skins of animals, ribs of palm leaves, bones, and tablets of white stone.’ It was not yet ‘assembled in one book’ because the revelation was still coming and so the ‘book was still open’ but (3) it was recited by the Muslim collective ‘in a regular way.’ i.e. for daily prayers, five times a day – but not restricted to that (4) ‘they applied its text to all matters of life’, from the spiritual, ‘personal, social, political and economic.’76
In this sense, there is no ‘obscure zone’ with the Qur’an.
The Time of Abu Bakr
When Abu Bakr was in stewardship of the realms opened to the Prophet of Allah, peace be upon him, he enabled the following:
After the Battle of al-Yamama (11 AH), one year after the Prophet’s death (peace be upun him) Abu Bakr ordered the collection of the written Qur’an (mushafs) of the Companions.
Zaid ibn Thabit (d.45 AH) was commissioned by him to do this.77
Zaid isn’t someone we know nothing about. Biographies have been written about all the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Some facts we know about Zaid, include:
He had memorised the whole Qur’an. (He was a hafiz.)78
He recited the Qur’an twice in front of the Prophet the year of his death.79
In his endeavour to compile the Qur’an, he ‘did not accept any Qur’anic text as authentic unless it existed in a written form, and had been written under the Prophet’s supervision.’80
Zaid’s compiled copy of the Qur’an remained with Abu Bakr, then with Umar (the second Steward of the Prophet of Allah). And when he died, it passed to Hafsah, Umar’s daughter and the Prophet’s widow.81
During this time, ‘religious studies, such as tafsir (hermeneutic) and fiqh (law studies) were established in Islamic centers all over the Islamic territories under the leadership and scholarship of the Companions, who had been closest students of the Prophet. These elaborate and complex studies were mainly centred on the text of the Qur’an.’82
The Time of ‘Uthman
When Uthman was in stewardship, the territories opened to him ‘expanded rapidly and became enormously vast’83. ‘New Muslims in different areas had no idea about canonical readings (see below). Using the copy that was with Hafsah, he ordered a new team of Companions the task of making an official copy. Again, this was under the leadership of Zaid ibn Thabit.84
Then ‘Uthman sent out five groups of educated reciters each of which had a copy of the written Qur’an, so the project would proceed under the watchful eye of official teachers:85
Sent to teach the people of:
This Written Qur’an became known as…
Zaid ibn Thabit
Mushaf of Madinah
‘Abd Allah ibn al-Sa’ib (d. 70 AH)
Mushaf of Mecca
Al-Mughirah ibn Shihab (d 91 AH)
Al-Sham (Greater Syria)
Mushaf of al-Sham
Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sami (d 73 AH)
Mushaf of al-Kufah
‘Amir ibn Kais
Mushaf of al-Basrah
‘The Uthmanic project resulted in the making of several copies of the Qur’an, which were sent to the largest cities of the Islamic state, with one copy being kept in the capital (al Madinah). All the Companions of the Prophet alive at that time approved of what ‘Uthman was doing as stated by Mus’ab, the son of the Companion, Sa’d ibn abi Waqqas.’86 This was the official copy of the compiled Qur’an.
‘Thirteen to fourteen years in between the death of the Prophet and the official mushaf, compiled in Uthman’s time’
Important figures with executive power, who are also close Companions of the Prophet, were initiating and backing the projects
‘Presence of large number of scholars who had heard the same Qur’an from the Prophet himself’
‘Using original text collected in the time of Abu Bakr’ (1 year after the Prophet’s death)
‘Having Zaid ibn Thabit at the head of the team.’87
There are a number of (natural and allowable) readings of the Qur’an (i.e. the way some words are pronounced). This variation in pronouncing certain words in the Qur’an has been recorded too in the ‘codices of the Companions’.88
‘No reading can be accepted as legitimate today unless it satisfies three cumulative conditions:
the reading has to reach us through authentic chain of narrators
the reading has to coincide with the script of one of the copies of the Qur’an distributed by the third caliph ‘Uthman
the reading has to be compatible with accepted grammatical [classical] Arabic constructions’.89
The Significance of Mutawaatir Reporting
For an important post on the validity of the Sciences of Hadiths – you have got to read this! Assuming you have, let me continue to say that the discovery of a new manuscripts found now or later will make no difference to the question of the intact nature of the preservation of the Qur’an. (Click on this pic, below, and watch from 00:02:10.)
This is because the preservation is confirmed via ‘Mutawattir reporting’ or ‘Recurrent oral transmission on a mass scale’. Quoting Hamza Tzortzis: ‘It is impossible to claim, now, that every single person conspired to tell a lie in the fact that everyone (i.e. masses of people) in different locations are saying – or reporting – the exact same thing at the beginning of the report, in the middle of the report and at the end of the chain of narrators. The possibility of a coincidence of mass organised-falsehood is zero.’
He gives an analogy by the way of David Hume (one of the most famous skeptical philosophers), quoting Hume’s ‘Enquiry about Human Understanding’, who said, in reference to miracles.
“There may possibly be miracles – or violations of the usual course of nature – of such a kind as to admit of proof from human testimony… Suppose all authors in all languages agree that from the 1st January 1600, there was a total darkness over the whole earth for 8 days. Suppose that the tradition of this extraordinary event is still strong and lively among the people. That all travelers who return from foreign countries bring us accounts of the same tradition without the least variation or contradiction. It is evident that our present philosophers, instead of doubting the fact, ought to receive it as certain.”
This confirms the rational basis of mass reporting. ‘To argue against this is to suggest a mass conspiracy’ of fantastical proportions.90
‘Muslims do not consider manuscripts as acceptable evidence for proving the originality of the holy texts. Manuscripts written by unknown people, in unknown circumstances, cannot make the case for an unaltered text or its originality, by itself.’91
‘Methodologically, any holy text surviving only through manuscripts written by anonymous scribes cannot be taken seriously enough to impose the authority of its words and message, because it cannot prove its originality.’92
In any case, ‘the number of Qur’anic manuscripts is estimated at one quarter of a million.’ 93 The ‘Birmingham Qur’an fragments’ is the oldest extant manuscript (568-645 CE) we possess. It is contemporaneous with the Prophet (peace be upon him) and matches the current Qur’an we have.
- Revelation, first given to: Muhammad (Peace be upon him)
- Name of revealed work: The Qur’an
- Language of founder: Classical Arabic
- Oral revelation (actual) date: 610 CE
- Obscure zone: None
- Notable issues:
- Verses memorised during lifetime of the Prophet
- Compiled whilst all the Companions were around
- 680 CE Sunni-Shia split after the Battle of Karbala94
- Written and compiled by: Zaid ibn Thabit, Companion of the Prophet
- Date written: Written as it was being revealed (over 23 years)
- Extant copy earliest date: Birmingham Qur’an manuscript fragment: 568-645 CE95
- Extant copy earliest language: Classical Arabic (living – but dying – language. People can still speak it.)
- No of Extant Manuscripts: Qur’an: Quarter of a million
What this means for my religion?
All our current world religions have traditions that have certainly been built over the years. And they may have varying emphases between them. This is interesting and fine. That they represent different cultural experiments with the truth is also fascinating. That they might contain authentic revelation within them is not necessarily being denied either, actually; we would simply not be quite sure where an authentic nugget of revelation was and where it wasn’t. It is a Qur’anic assertion, however, that all previous religions were in origin trying to convey the same message now contained succinctly and reliably in the Qur’an. This could be summarised as ‘Hear Oh Humanity, your Lord is One!’
This post is not about telling people what they can or can’t do. People are free to choose to follow the dictates of their religion, or to follow none. Rather, when we look at the very crux of the message itself of any religion, we should ask the question – that Atheists too might be interested to ask: ‘What is the historical basis of the religious holy book itself?’ Surely, you must agree that the Qur’anic challenge is one that ought to exhort us all to bewilderment and action: to find out: Just what is this revelation that is the only book that can be conclusively traced back right to the actual Prophet himself!?– What is his message? His warning? His good news? (If you want to find out the latest about medicine, ask a practicing doctor; if you want to find out the latest about finance, ask an accountant; if you want to find out the latest about Islam, ask a practicing Muslim scholar.) And in fact, this is not a message just for Muslims either. It is a message for humankind.
“And We have sent you (O Muhammad ) not but as a mercy for the Alameen (all that exists)” (Qur’an, 21:107)
However, its message will be locked to you if you’re not seeking the Truth or you’re not seeking God (bear that in mind) – for the Truth and God are both one and the same. (‘Al-Haqq’, The Truth, The Real – is one of the titles of God, in Islam).
Any faults in this post are mine. And Allah Knows Best.
Check out What Islam says of Belief in other Scriptures, here.
Check out Many Prophets, One Message and their older article about the Preservation of the Qur’an.
سبحان ربك رب العزة عما يصفون وسلام على المرسلين والحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله محمد وعلى اله وصحبه أجمعين
Exalted be your Lord, the Lord of Glory, above what they attribute to Him, and peace be upon the Messengers, and all praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe. And the peace and blessing upon prophet Mohammed and his relatives and all his companions.
1Hinduism, by Klostermaier. Pg1
3Op cit, pg2
4Op cit, pg3
6Hindu Writings by Klostermaier, pg 3
7Ibid, pg 3-4
8Ibid, pg 3
9Hinduism by Klostermaier, pg 9
10Zoroastrianism by Boyce, pg 1
11Hinduism by Klostermaier, pg 9
13Hindu Writings by Klostermaier, pg 3
and cf. Editorial notes in various volumes of Pune Edition, see references.
16Zoroastrianism by Boyce, pg 1
21Op cit, pg 11
22Op cit, pg 1
27Buddha by Armstrong, pg xii
29Op cit, pg xiii
35“Buddhist council.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008
36 See Gombrich 2006, p. 3; Harvey 1990, p. 3; Maguire 2001, p. 69
37Buddha by Armstrong, pg xiv
38Op cit, pg xvi
40 Harry Falk and Seishi Karashima, A ﬁrst‐century Prajñāpāramitā manuscript from Gandhāra — parivarta 1 (Texts from the Split Collection 1). Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University XV (2012), 19-61
48 F.F. Bruce. “The Last Thirty Years”. Story of the Bible. ed. Frederic G. Kenyon. Retrieved June 19, 2007
50The Complete Bible Handbook, Bowker, pg 300
51 Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible 2000 Amsterdam University Press, page 249; and Jack V. Scarola, “A Chronology of the nativity Era” in Chronos, kairos, Christos 2 by Ray Summers, Jerry Vardaman 1998, pages 61-81
52 Harris, Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985
53Hunting for the Word of God, by Ameri, location 139 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 6 approx)
54The Genesis of the Gospel by Peterson, pg 62 cited in Hunting for the Word of God, by Ameri, location 4498 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 209 approx)
55 Orsini, p. 470
56Hunting for the Word of God, by Ameri, location 270 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 12-13 approx)
57Op cit, location 613 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 28-29 approx)
58Op cit, location 852 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 39-40 approx)
59The Complete Bible Handbook, Bowker, pg 301
62Hunting for the Word of God, by Ameri, location 270 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 12-13 approx)
63 Raymond E. Brown.An Introduction to the New Testament, 1997. pp. 456–466
65Hunting for the Word of God, by Ameri, location 270 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 12-13 approx)
66Hunting for the Word of God, by Ameri, location 162 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 7-8 approx)
69Ibid, ending at location 179 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 8-9 approx)
70Ibid, ending at location 196 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 9 approx)
71Ibid, ending at location 223 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 10 approx)
72Hunting for the Word of God, by Ameri, location 2377 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 110-111 approx)
73See Qur’an (20:114)
74Muslim, hadith no 3004, cited in Hunting for the Word of God, by Ameri, location 2395 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 112 approx)
75From al Azami’s History of the Qur’anic Text, pg55-69 cited in ibid, location 2419 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 113 approx)
76Ibid, location 2429 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 113 approx)
77Ibid, location 2437 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 114 approx)
80Bukhari: no 4701 cited in ibid
81Bukhari, no 5038 cited in ibid, location 2445 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 114 approx)
82ibid, location 2445 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 114 approx)
84Bukhari: 4702, cited in ibid, location 2464 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 115 approx)
85ibid, location 2464 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 115 approx)
86ibid, location 2473 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 115 approx)
87ibid, location 2483 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 116 approx)
89ibid, location 2495 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 116 approx)
91 Hunting for the Word of God, by Ameri, location 2503 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 117 approx)
92ibid, location 2512 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 117-8 approx)
93The History of the Qur’anic Text by Azami, pg 347 cited in ibid, location 852 of 5735 on Kindle (or pg 40 approx)
94The Shia use the same Qur’an as the Sunnis. Not a lot of people know that. Why?
95A pending post will briefly comment on the Birmingham Qur’an.