For a Muslim the Qur'an is the word of Allah Subhanahu wa Taala. In fact, the authenticity of Qur'an is beyond the slightest doubt. This article briefly discusses evidence for this assertion.
Let us look at the beginning of Qur'an's revelation.
It is well known the Qur'an was not revealed all at one time, but over a period of 23 years.
The Prophet Muhammad Sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam was called on to be the Messenger of Allah Subhanahu wa Taala when he was about forty years old.
Recalling it later to his wife Aisha Radi Allahu anha, the Prophet sallil Allahu wa sallam said that for some time before this, the Angel Jibrael (Gabriel) appeared to him, and along with this he experienced a change in his spiritual state. This was at a time that he retreated to a mountain cave called Hira in Jabal al-Nur near Mecca. It was in this seclusion that he noticed the presence of the Angel.
According to historian Ibn Ishaq, the recorder of life-history (Sira) of Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallm, the Angel came to the Prophet when he was asleep and showed him a piece of brocade on which was some writing.
It is generally agreed the first words revealed by Jibrael Alayhe salam were that of Surah al-Alaq (Chapter 96) starting with the word "Iqra"- meaning recite or read. When Jibrael said, "Iqra" read, the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam responded, "what shall I read?" The Angle repeated it three more times and the Prophet repeated the same response. Jibrael then read the rest of Surah.
The Prophet did not expect this and was greatly shaken by the dream. And as he was heading down the mountain, Jibrael alayhe salam appeared to him in the form of a man standing on the horizon and declared that he was the Messenger of Allah Subhanahu wa Taala.
The Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam returned to his wife Khadijah radi Allahu anha and told her the entire incident. She comforted him with words of consolation - thus lightening his burden and proclaimed to the truth of what he said.
She then took him to her cousin, Waraqa bin Naufal, a Christian monk. Waraqa talked to the Prophet sallil Allahu wa sallam and said, "You are the prophet of this people. There has come to you the greatest namus (Angel Gabriel) who came to Moses. You will be called a liar and they will treat you with scorn and cast you out and fight you."
After the first few encounters, the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam became somewhat comfortable with wahi (the process of revelation). However, sometimes the revelation came with the ringing of a bell, which was most difficult for him. Mostly, it was also physically burdensome, such as reported by Zaid bin Harith. The strain it placed on him was sometimes evident to those present with him. For example, Aisha Radi Allahu anha is reported to have said that at times when wahi came to him, and although it was cool morning, his forehead would glisten with perspiration.
The angel came to him variously. Mostly, he was invisible to others, but sometimes he was visible to the Companions as a man. The instructions he articulated was not always Qur'an, such as the famous and widely cited Hadith where he questioned the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam on Islam, iman, and ihsan, etc.; and attested his responses.
Thus for twenty-three years, from the time the angel first appeared in the cave until his death in 632 C.E., the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam received revelations addressing all aspects of the relationship between humankind and Allah Subhanahu wa Taala. Some of these addressed fundamental questions of the human condition, such as meaning of life and death; others addressed particular moral and social problems, such as infanticide and economic injustice. For thirteen years, which constituted its Meccan period, the revelations essentially dealt with correcting the belief system of people. The Madinan period, which lasted for the next ten years, it mostly dealt with the rules and regulations for the burgeoning Muslim society.
The fact that much of the Qur'an was revealed when the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam was in the company of his companions highlights the importance of his contemporary community, that is, its asbab nazool or historical and social context for its understanding and application.
In fact, Allah Subhanahu wa Taala has taken the responsibility of preserving the Qur'an as clearly indicated by the following verse from Surah Al Jijr (Chapter 15):
"We who have without doubt, sent down the Message and We will assuredly guard it from corruption" (Al Hijr, 15:9).
Thus the purity of the text of the Qur'an stands as a testimony of the care with which Allah Subhanahu wa Taala guards its truth through the passage of times. This guarantee from the Higher Power tells that its pure and holy truth will never suffer from any corruption.
As the Qur'an was being revealed, it was memorized by the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam who was its first addressee. In the beginning, he was worried that he may forget what was being revealed. So he was told by Allah Subhanahu wa Taala in Surah Al Qiyamah (Chapter 75):
"Do not move your tongue concerning [the Qur'an] to make haste therewith. It is for Us to collect it [in your heart] so you may recite [and compile it]. But when We have recited it, follow its recital [as promulgated]: Nay more, it is for Us to explain it [through your tongue]." (Surah Al Qiyamah, 75: 16-19).
It shows the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam's eargerness to memorize while it was being revealed. In his haste to commit verses to memory before they may slip away, he would move his tongue in anticipation of the coming words. He was assured there was no need for haste; all verses would etch themselves into his mind, since Allah Subhanahu wa Taala had taken full responsibility for the timeless preservation of the Qur'an.
After each revelation the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam will repeat the words of the Qur'an to those who were present with him, and tell others who came in contact with him. He will recite its passages, often running into several chapters in his prayers performed individually, and variously in meetings with others, and in daily congregational prayers led by him. There is evidence from his times that the community was encouraged to finish reciting the entire Qur'an during the month of Ramadan in its nightly congregational prayers.
The Qur'an consistently uses the derivatives of tala -yutla, atlu, tutlu, yatlu, etc. such as in Al Baqarah, 2:129, Al Baqarah, 2:151, Al Imran, 3:164, Al Hajj, 22:30, Al Ankabut, 29:45, and Al Jumu'ah, 62:2 and many others. They allude to the role of Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam to disseminate the revelations throughout his community.
But recitation alone is insufficient if it is not accompanied by instruction. So the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam's role is clearly enunciated in the Qur'an, as in verse 164 of Surah Al Imran, (Chapter 3):
"Allah has conferred a great favor on the Believers indeed, sending among them a messenger from among themselves who rehearses unto them the Signs of Allah, and purifies them, and instructs them in the Book and Wisdom" (al Imran 3:164).
And the following verse from Al Baqarah:
"A similar [favor you have already received] in that We have sent among you a messenger of your own, rehearsing to you Our Signs, and purifying you, and instructing you in the Book and Wisdom" (Al Baqarah 2:151).
In addition to all of the above, the angel Jibrael alayhe salam would visit the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam to review the Qur'an thus far revealed, once every year. And during the last year of the Prophet sall lil Allahu alayhe wa sallam's life he visited him twice.
Therefore, the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam had a number of duties towards the Qur'anic wahy (revelation). He was the instrument of its divine reception, and the one who supervised its proper compilation, provided the necessary explanations, encouraged community-wide dissemination, and taught his companions.
Thus a unique methodology of memorization and art of reciting (tajwid) was set up right from the beginning of the revelation of the Qur'an by the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam himself. He would not only teach but also how to recite or approve of the recitation by others.
His companions learnt from him and passed on to others they came in contact with. The Prophet sall lil Allahu alayhe wa sallam would even instruct the emissaries that he sent other places that their primary job was to teach the Qur'an.
While there is no evidence that the Prophet sallil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam ever learnt the art of writing and is generally believed that he remained unlettered throughout his life. But with the revelation of first word of Iqra he realized the importance of establishing a robust educational policy for his Ummah. Indeed, he employed every possible measure to encourage education by his people, describing the merits and rewards of learning as well as the punishment of withholding knowledge. Even non-Muslims were employed, such as those prisoners from the battle of Badr who could teach.
Among his sayings, a famous hadith reported by Uthman bin Affan as well as Ali bin Abi Talib says: "The best among you is the one who learns the Qur'an and teaches it."
This resulted in a rapid diffusion of knowledge throughout the Arabian Peninsula, especially of the Qur'an during the lifetime of the Prophet sallil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam, and carried on through by his Companions who had learnt it directly by him. Because the Qur'an was recited aloud in most daily salat and during nightly devotions, many learnt the Qur'an memorization directly from the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam.
A vast number of Huffaz - memorizers of the Qur'an by heart, were the result. The exact numbers of these are not known because many of these were subsequently martyred, but many lived on and taught either in Madinah or the newly conquered lands of the rapidly growing Muslim dominions.
This method of memorization of the Qur'an by a Hafiz (plural Huffaz), with its immediate correction if a mistake is made is the most perfect known method of preserving a document. This along with its Tajwid taught by the Prophet sallil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam has been passed on generation after generation by Tawatar - continuation by several means, which ensures that what we have and recite today as the Qur'an is exactly the same word-for-word as was revealed to the Prophet sallil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam.
Although the Qur'an was revealed verbally, it consistently refers to itself as kitab, Book, indicating it must have a written form. In fact, there is evidence for it from the earliest stages of Islam. Such as the account of verses from the beginning of Surah Taha (Chapter 20) revealed prior to conversion of Omar radi Allahu anhu which he read at his sister's house and culminated in his acceptance of the Qur'an's message.
The names of approximately sixty-five companions who functioned as scribes of the Prophet sallil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam are known. Whenever there was a revelation, the Prophet sall lil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam would call a scribe to write down the latest verses. Zaid bin Thabit, because he lived close to the Prophet's Mosque was often summoned. According to Zaid he was often asked to read back to the Prophet sallil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam to ensure that no scribal errors occurred.
It was because of this practice that the Prophet sallil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam declared that "whoever has written anything from me other than the Qur'an should erase it" by which he meant that Qur'anic and non-Qur'anic (that is Hadith) materials must not be written on the same sheet, so as to avoid confusion. In fact those who were unable to write often appeared in the Mosque, with vellum (refined lamb or calf- skin for writing) or parchment in hand, requesting volunteers to record Qur'anic verses for them.
Based on the total number of scribes involved, and the custom of Prophet sallil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam to record all new verses on whatever was momentarily available such as various parchments and bones, the entire Qur'an was available in written form during his lifetime. And before his death, he left the entire Qur'an in the written form in a bag with his wife Hifdha radi Allahu anha.
Soon after the Prophet's death, Abu Bakr Siddiq radi Allahu anhu was chosen as the Amir al Momineen, he had to fight some false claimers to prophet-hood (mudi'an nabuwah) and others who refused to give Zakkah, which resulted in the death of quite a few Qur'an memorizers. Umar radi Allahu anhu advised Abu Bakr radi Allahu anhu to order the Quran to be collected into a book form. Then Abu Bakr radi Allahu anhu took the Qur'an from Hifdha Radi Allahu anha and gave it Zaid bin Thabit, one of the memorizers and most trusted scribes, and Abu Bakr called on the young Zaid bin Thabit to take the responsibility of compiling the Quran into a book. Zaid called on other huffaz for their help to compile the Qur'an into a book within 11/2-2 years of Prophet sallil Aalahu alayhe wa sallam's death. Once completed, the compiled Qur'an into a master volume termed Suhuf, was placed in the state archives under the custodianship of Abu Bakr radi Allahu anhu.
It was Zaid again who was given the charge of this task by the third Khalifa-tul-Muslimeen Othman radi Allahu anhu only 15 years after the Prophet's death. This, because Islamic dominions were spread far and wide having people with different accents, and Othman radi Allahu anhu feared its possible adverse effect on the written Quranic text. Several copies of Qur'anic Mashaf, Qur'anic manuscript were made and copies from this time are still available in various places, especially in different world museums.
The above description gives a glimpse of the great efforts made by the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam and continued by the Muslim Ummah to maintain the fidelity of the Qur'an.
A number of books have been written on the subject of learning and preserving the Qur'an, as well as responding to the criticisms of Orientalists. Two of the recent books are as follows:
1. "The History of the Qur'anic Text from Revelation to Compilation. A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments" by Muhammad Mustafa Al-Azmi. Professor Al-Azami originally from India studied at Dar-ul-Ulum Deoband, India, Al-Azhar University, Cairo, and University of Cambridge, England. He is a Saudi citizen and Professor Emeritus at King Saud University, Riyadh, with positions at Umm al-Qura University in Makkah, National Public Library, Qatar. He also holds visiting scholar positions at several universities in the United States including Princeton University. The book was published in 2003 by UK Islamic Academy, Leicester, England.
2. "The Story of the Qur'an, Its History and Place in Muslim Life" by Ingrid Mattson. Mattson is Professor at the Macdonald Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary. She has been variously involved with the Islamic Society of North America and has just finished her term as its president. The book was published in 2008 by Blackwell Publishing, Malden, Massachusetts.
An example is provided by Dr. Mattson in her book of a young seventeen-year-old American girl named Reem who had already learnt and memorized the Qur'an at the local Islamic school. On August 7, 2002 she took the journey to Damascus, Syria (where her parents came from) to improve her recitation and memorization from Sheikh Abu'l-Hasan Muhy al-Din al-Kurdi. Despite the fact that Reem had memorized the Qur'an by the age of twelve, it took her a number of years of hard work before she had a chance to be heard by the widely sought eminent scholar. She was assigned a reciter who would teach her the advanced rules of tajweed and make sure her memorization was flawless. Reem had to prove that she knew every verse by heart, develop a deep understanding of every word of the holy book, and worked methodically through the surahs, reading English translations and Arabic commentaries. Mattson describes the various stages Reem went though. The Sheikh al-Kurdi came from a line shyukh, and Mattson has shown all of the links in a chain of transmission from the Prophet sallil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam to the Sheikh. By then nearing the end of eight decades of his life, the Sheikh was the twenty-eighth person, engaged in building the twenty-ninth generation to this sacred pedigree, to which Reem belonged.
The Qur'an explicitly points out that earlier Scriptures received by the Jewish and Christians were corrupted from within by their rabbis and priests. Therefore, the Prophet sallil Allahu Alayhe wa sallam and the Muslim community took extraordinary measures to safeguard the Qur'an from any and all corruption.
Therefore, Muslims are the only people who have the original unadulterated word of Allah Subhanahu wa Taala: No other people even come close to having this privilege. Allah Subhanahu wa Taala pledged to guard it. And with instructions coming from that Higher Power, the Prophet sallil Allahu alayhe wa sallam who received his calling some six hundred years after Jesus (alayhe salam), and lived under the full glare of history, instituted an educational system, oral and written, un-mixed with his own word, for preservation of the Qur'an. The the existence of memorized transmission from the Prophet's times and carried on by thousands and thousands of Huffaz along with the written transmission read by millions of millions of Muslim Ummah worldwide, every word of the sacred Qur'an has been vigilantly guarded and passed on intact to succeeding generations. It is thus ensured that the Qur'anic text is immune from any and all types of corruption. And so every Muslim, when he or she reads it, is convinced to be in direct communion with Allah Subhanahu wa Taala.
It is possible as the Western sources often claim that worldwide an enormous number of a variety of the Bible are printed and distributed. But regardless of that claim, it is only the Qur'an that is not only memorized but also read much more often. And it is because of certainty of its divine source, that to prove a point, Muslims often quote it in their discourses. And Muslim scholars over the centuries have analyzed and are analyzing every word of the Qur'an. The purpose is to understand the divine message and derive meanings for living righteously and successfully in ever-changing situations. Also to make judgments based on its application to all prevailing issues using the best human intellectual capabilities.
Although during colonization of the Muslim lands an alien system was imposed on Muslims, and even after independence, the co-opted autocratic rulers who grabbed power one way or another tried to impose various other systems. It is heartening that with resurgence, Muslims are not only renewing their Islamic commitment, but also re-invigorating their deeper understanding of the blessed Qur'an as individuals, and in their study-groups and associations to find transcendental solutions to the myriad problems they are facing and regain their honored place in the comity of nations.
Dr. Siraj Islam Mufti is active in interfaith and American Muslim affairs..
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