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Compilation and Infallibility of the Qur’an

Every day, millions of Muslims recite the Holy Qur’an, read its translation, and ponder over its meaning. It is the foundation of our religion, and it is an article of faith that the Qur’an is our “holy book”. Yet have we ever wondered: is the Qur’an the same as was revealed to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny)? Have there been any alterations or omissions? It was originally revealed in parts, so who compiled it in this order? Didn’t our Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) have a different and longer version of the Qur’an? And when exactly was the Holy Qur’an revealed?

Protection from Alteration

Allah himself states in the Holy Qur’an, “Surely We have revealed this reminder (i.e. the Qur’an), and surely We will protect it.” Our scholars are also nearly unanimous on this issue. For example, Shaikh al-Saduq states in his book Al-E’itiqadaat, which is a summary of Shia beliefs, “Our belief is that the Qur’an which Allah revealed to His Prophet Muhammad is (the same as) the one between the two covers (daffatayn). And it is the one which is in the hands of the people and is not greater in extent than that. The number of chapters as generally accepted is one hundred and fourteen… And whoever asserts that we say that it is greater in extent than that is a liar.”

This also makes logical sense. If Allah has revealed the Qur’an to be the eternal source of guidance for mankind, surely He himself is responsible for ensuring that not even the slightest alteration takes place in His holy book. Furthermore, there are manuscripts of the Qur’an available from the earliest days of Islam which one can compare with modern-day manuscripts for concordance. In conclusion, the Qur’an which was revealed to the Prophet is what we have in circulation among Muslims (Shias and Sunnis) today without any omissions or additions.

Who Compiled It?

The Prophet was asked to convey the verses of the Qur’an to the people over a period of 23 years. The prevalent view among Muslims is that the verses were compiled in the form of a book during the era of either Abu Bakr or Uthman. However, such a view goes against historic proof as well as against common sense.

In his Al-Bayan Fi Tafsir Al-Qur’an, the late Ayatollah Sayyid Abul Qasim al-Khoei devotes two chapters to the collection and preservation of the Holy Qur’an. He provides many reasons why the prevalent view about Abu Bakr or Uthman commissioning the compilation of the Qur’an is unacceptable. He proves that the Qur’an was indeed compiled during the lifetime of the Prophet under his own supervision. For example:

The traditions which claim the Qur’an was compiled after the Prophet’s demise contradict each other. Some claim that it was compiled during the era of Abu Bakr, which others state that it was during the reign of Uthman, and some even claim it took place during the time of Umar. Some narrations state that Abu Bakr took complete authority himself to compile the book, while others say that the full right to do so was given to the companion Zayd bin Thabit. Therefore, Ayatollah al-Khoei concludes that “these reports are self‑contradictory on many points, making them totally unreliable.” (Al-Bayan)

Secondly, as the Prophet famously declared, “I am leaving behind among you two weighty things: the Book of Allah and my Progeny.” It would not make sense that the Prophet would tell us to follow a “book” which existed in the form of scattered parchment and bones!

Rather, it makes logical sense that the Qur’an was compiled in the form of a book within the lifetime of the Prophet. Ayatollah al-Khoei states, “The greatness of the Qur’an itself, and the painstaking effort by the Prophet to arrange for its memorization and reading, and the inclination of the Muslims to do the same with reverence and expectation of being rewarded by Allah, all point to the fact that the Qur’an could not have been compiled in the haphazard manner shown in the reports.” (Al-Bayan)

Furthermore, given the efforts the Prophet went through in order to convey each and every part of God’s message to humanity and teach us every minute detail of Islamic jurisprudence, it doesn’t seem reasonable that the Prophet would neglect an important task like the compilation of the Qur’an. This particularly rings true when we consider the fact that the Qur’an is not only a permanent source of guidance for mankind but also a rhetorical miracle whose literary eloquence testifies to our Prophet’s prophethood. Surely the compilation of such an important book could not have been left at the mercy of the masses.

Indeed, based on a tradition found in both Shia and Sunni literature, Qatadah asked the companion Anas bin Malik: “Who collected the Qur’an at the time of the Prophet?” He said: “Four of them, all from Ansar. They were Ubay bin Ka’b, Muadh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit, and Abu Zaid.” (Sahih Bukhari, v. 6, p. 202)

Similarly, in a tradition reported from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him), the Prophet is known to have told Imam Ali (peace be upon him) to compile the Qur’an while he was still alive. (Tafseer al-Qummi)

Sayyid Murtadha is quoted as saying in the famous Tafseer Majma al-Bayan that the Qur’an was compiled in the time of the Prophet in the form that we possess today. It was also presented and recited in front of the Prophet from beginning to end by a group of companions, including Abdullah ibn Mas’oud and Ubayy ibn Ka’ab. The same has been said by other prominent scholars in Shia history, including Shaikh al-Mufid and Shaikh Tusi. (Majma al-Bayan) Our contemporary scholars hold this view as well.

What Happened during Uthman’s Era?

As the evidence demonstrates, the Qur’an was compiled within the lifetime of the Prophet. However, during the time of Uthman, as Islam spread to various parts of Arabia where different variations of Arabic were spoken, there was some fear among the Companions about disunity and confusion among the Muslims about the correct recitation. According to Ayatollah al-Khoei, “Uthman united the Muslims upon one mode of recitation, the recitation which was already current and known among the Muslims, the one which they had heard from the Prophet.” (Al-Bayan) He forbade all other recitations which were present among the people, and he burned all those copies of the Qur’an which were based on the deviant modes of recitation, a decision which earned him the not-so-flattering title of “the Burner of Qur’an”.

Don’t the Ahlul Bayt Have A Different Qur’an?

It is found in our narrations that Imam Ali presented a book to Abu Bakr which some mistakenly assume was a “more complete” Qur’an. Rather, as Allama Tabatabai explains, what Imam Ali had prepared was an in-depth commentary and explanation of every verse of the Qur’an, which was rejected by the powers who did not want Imam Ali to receive any recognition in respect to the Qur’an. (Qur’an Dar Islam)

When Was It Revealed?

It is a common oversight to believe that the verses of the Qur’an were only revealed piecewise over a period of 23 years. However, according to the School of Ahlul Bayt, the Qur’an was also revealed in its entirety to the Holy Prophet on Laylatul Qadr (Night of Decree) every year of his life. As Allah states in Sura al-Qadr, “Verily, We revealed it (the Qur’an) on the Night of Decree.” (97:1) According to commentators, including Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi, this means that the Qur’an was revealed in its entirety upon the heart of the Prophet (called Inzaal). Thereafter as occasion would necessitate, the Prophet would be instructed to recite the appropriate installments (called Tanzeel, see 17:106) to the people. (Tafseer-e-Namuneh)

Furthermore, as he neared the end of his life, the Prophet himself told Imam Ali, “Jibrail used to present to me the Qur’an once per year, but this year he presented it to me twice. I believe that my time is near.” (Bihar al-Anwar)

In Conclusion

The Qur’an, the Hadith, and logical evidence testify to the fact that Allah has taken upon Himself the responsibility to protect the Holy Qur’an. A source of permanent guidance for mankind and an unmatched miracle of literary eloquence, it is incomprehensible that any aspect of this perfect and immaculate book would be left at the discretion of fallible human beings. Indeed, accepting such a conjecture will inevitably lead to innumerable doubts about the infallibility of the Qur’an, and by extension, the integrity of the faith whose claim to Truth rests on the inimitability of this very Book.

Suggested Readings:

The Collection and Preservation of the Qur’an

The Qur’an: Its Protection from Alteration

About Arsalan Rizvi

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  • Sayyid

    Well done!

  • Senah

    Thanks for this piece. I shall be forwarding this to a few research “scholars” who are so grossly mistaken in their baseless views. 😉

  • mahdi.B

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  • kalam