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  • 787
  • Date :
  • 12/4/2005

Collection of Revelation during the Prophet's Lifetime

During his last pilgrimage, at the sermon which he gave to the large gathering of Muslims, the Prophet said: 'I have left with you something which if you will hold fast to it you will never fall into error- a plain indication, the book of God and the practice of his prophet. [Ibn Hisham, p. 651.]

This advice from the Prophet to the Muslims implies that the revelation was available as kitab (writing) before his death, for otherwise he would have referred to it in some other term.

From other reports also, we can conclude that the Prophet himself took care of the actual arrangement of the revelation, when it was written down.

Zaid is reported to have said: 'We used to compile the Qur'an from small scraps in the presence of the Apostle.' [Itqan, I, p 99; Salih, p 69]

'Uthman said, that in later days, the Prophet 'used to, when something was revealed to him, call someone from among those who used to write for him and said: Place these ayat in the sura, in which this and this is mentioned, and when (only) one aya was revealed to him, he said: Place this aya in the sura in which this and this is mentioned'. [Jeffery, A.: Materials for the history of the text of the Qur'an, (incl. Kitab al-masahif by Ibn Abi Dawud (abbr. as Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif)Leiden, 1937, p. 31.]

This indicates that not only was the revelation written down during the lifetime of the Prophet, but that he himself gave instructions for the arrangement of the material. According to some other reports, it is also clear, that this proper arrangement and order of the ayat was well known to the Companions of the Prophet, and they were not prepared to tamper with it.

'Narrated Ibn Az-Zubair: I said to 'Uthman "This verse which is in Sura al-Baqara: 'those of you who die and leave wives behind ... without turning them out' has been abrogated by another verse. Why then do you write it in the Qur'an?" 'Uthman said: Leave it (where it is) O son of my brother, for I will not shift anything of it (i . e. the Qur'an) from its original position.' [Bukhari, VI. No. 60.]

Similarly quite a number of reports mention the various Suras by their names or beginnings. Two examples may suffice to make this point:

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet used to recite the following in the Fajr prayer of Friday: Alif Lam Mim Tanzil (Sajda) (32) and Hal-ata 'ala-l-Insani (al-dahr) (76). [Bukhari, II, No. 16.]

Abu Huraira said: God's messenger recited in both rak'as of the dawn prayer: "Say O unbelievers (99) and Say, He is God, one God (112).' [Robson, J. (transl.): Mishkat al Masabih,Lahore, 1963, I, pp. 172-3 - Tabrizi: Mishkatal-masabih,Beirut, 1961, I, No. 842.]

The order and arrangement was of course well known to the Muslims due to the daily recitation of the Qur'an in the prayers at the mosque of the Prophet and at other places. Finally there are three ahadith in Sahih Bukhari, informing us that the Angel Gabriel used to recite the Qur'an with the Prophet once a year, but he recited it twice with him in the year he died. The Prophet used to stay in i'tikaf for ten days every year (in the month of Ramad. an), but in the year of his death, he stayed in i'tikaf for twenty days. [Bukhari, VI, No. 520; see also Nos. 518, 519.]

We can therefore distinguish the following measures which ensured the collection of the revelation in writing during the lifetime of the Prophet:

Revelation used to be written down even in the very early days of the Prophet's call.

In Madina, the Prophet had several persons who wrote down revelation when it was revealed.

The Prophet himself instructed his scribes as to where the different revealed verses should be placed, and thus determined the order and arrangement.

This order and arrangement was well known to the Muslims and strictly observed by them.

The Angel Gabriel went through all the revelation with Muhammad each year in Ramadan, and went through it twice in the year the Prophet died.

There are numerous reports about the existence of the written Qur'an - in the form of a book or piece of writing (kitab) during the lifetime of the Prophet.

What did the Prophet leave behind?

The way the material of revelation was left by the Prophet at his death was the most suitable for the Companions in that:

All parts of the revelation were available both in written form and memorised by the Companions.

All pieces were available on loose writing material, making it easy to arrange them in the proper order.

The order already fixed of the ayat within the suras, in the written form, as well as in the memory of the Companions, and of the suras in the memory of the Companions.

What arrangement could have been better than to have everything to hand in written form, as well as memorised by the Muslims, and to have the order and arrangement already determined, partially in the written form and completely in the memories of the people?

It is for these reasons that a later scholar, al-Harith al-Muhasibi in his book kitab fahm al-Sunan, summarised the first phase of the written collection of the Qur'anic material in the following words:
'Writing of the Qur'an was no novelty, for the Prophet used to order that it be written down, but it was in separate pieces, on scraps of leather, shoulder blades and palm risp, and when (Abu Bakr) al-Siddiq ordered that it be copied from the (various) places to a common place, which was in the shape of sheets, these (materials) were found in the house of the Prophet in which the Qur'an was spread out, and he gathered it all together and tied it with a string so that nothing of it was lost. [Suyuti, Itqan, I, p. 58.]

It is obvious that the history of the Qur'anic text (Textgeschichte) cannot be compared with that of other Holy Scriptures. While the books of the Old and New Testaments, for example, were written, edited and compiled over long periods, sometimes centuries, the text of the Qur'an, once revelation had ceased, has remained the same to this day.

Suhuf and Mushaf

Both words are derived from the same root Sahafa 'to write'. The word suhuf also occurs in the Qur'an (87:19) meaning scripture or written sheets.

Suhuf (sg. sahifa) means loose pieces of writing material, such as paper, skin, papyrus, etc.

Mushaf (pl. masahif) means the collected suhuf, brought together into a fixed order, such as between two covers, into a volume.

In the history of the written text of the Qur'an, suhuf stands for the sheets on which the Qur'an was collected in the time of Abu Bakr. In these suhuf the order of the ayat within each sura was fixed, but the sheets with the suras on them were still in a loose arrangement, i.e. not bound into a volume.
Mushaf in the present context means the sheets on which the Qur'an was collected in the time of 'Uthman. Here both the order of the ayat within each sura as well as the order of the sheets were fixed.
Today we also call any copy of the Qur'an, which has both order of ayat and suras fixed, a mushaf.

How the suhuf were made

Tradition informs us that at the Battle of Yamama (11/633), in the time of Abu Bakr, a number of Muslims, who had memorised the Qur'an were killed. Hence it was feared that unless a written copy of the Qur'an were prepared, a large part of the revelation might be lost.

The following is the account in the Sahih Bukhari

Narrated Zaid bin Thabit Al-Ansari, one of the scribes of the Revelation: Abu Bakr sent for me after the casualties among the warriors (of the battle) of Yamama (where a great number of Qurra were killed). 'Umar was present with Abu Bakr who said: "Umar has come to me and said, the People have suffered heavy casualties on the day of (the battle of) Yamama, and I am afraid that there will be some casualties among the Qurra (those who know the Qur'an by heart) at other places, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be lost, unless you collect it. And I am of the opinion that you should collect the Qur'an.' Abu Bakr added, 'I said to 'Umar, "How can I do something which Allah's Apostle has not done?" 'Umar said (to me) "By Allah, it is (really) a good thing". So 'Umar kept on pressing trying to persuade me to accept his proposal, till Allah opened my bosom for it and I had the same opinion as 'Umar'. (Zaid bin Thabit added:) 'Umar was sitting with him (Abu Bakr) and was not speaking. Abu Bakr said (to me), 'You are a wise young man and we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of forgetfulness); and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Apostle. Therefore, look for the Qur'an and collect it (in one manuscript)'. By Allah, if he (Abu Bakr) had ordered me to shift one of the mountains (from its place) it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Qur'an. I said to both of them, 'How dare you do a thing which the Prophet has not done?' Abu Bakr said, 'By Allah, it is (really) a good thing. So I kept on arguing with him about it till Allah opened my bosom for that which He had opened the bosoms of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. So I started locating the Quranic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leafstalks of date palms and from the memories of men (who knew it by heart). I found with Khuzaima two verses of Suras at-Tauba which I had not found with anybody else (and they were):

'Verily there has come to you an Apostle (Muhammad) from among yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He (Muhammad) is ardently anxious over you (to be rightly guided)' (9:128).

The manuscript on which the Qur'an was collected, re- mained with Abu Bakr till Allah took him unto Him, and then with 'Umar till Allah took him unto Him, and finally it remained with Hafsa, 'Umar's daughter. [Bukhari, VI, No. 201.]

Here we can distinguish the following steps, which led to the preparation of the suhuf:

Zaid was instructed by Abu Bakr to collect the Qur'an.

Zaid collected it from various written materials and the memories of people.

The sheets thus prepared were kept with Abu Bakr, then 'Umar, then Hafsa.

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