The Qur’an is a book of revelations from God. Today it exists in the form of a book consisting of 114 chapters. They were sent down by the angel Gabriel, bit by bit according to the demand of circumstances.
The revelations started in 610 while the Prophet was in seclusion in a cave of Hira mountain, two miles from Makkah. The entire revelation was completed over a period of 23 years. The last passage was revealed when the Prophet was addressing a gathering at Mount Arafat after performing farewell pilgrimage in A.D. 622.
The Qur'an was not revealed all at one time. It was revealed gradually over a period of twenty three years. When any part of the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet he used to recite it to his companions. Since the verses of the Qur'an were recited during prayer the companions had to memorize them in order to recite them in their daily prayers.
In this way the memorization and the writing down of the Qur'an both started from the very first day of revelation.
According to traditions, whenever a revelation was received, Prophet called one of his scriber companions and dictated the verses to them. After dictation the Prophet also asked the scriber to read out to him what had been put in writing. This was done in order to correct any mistakes committed while writing.
This was thus the beginning of the compilation of the Qur’an. The next stage after writing down was to memorize the text. Prophet himself asked the companions to memorize the revealed verses and repeat the same in their prayers.
Thus the message of the Qur’an was not transmitted only by oral tradition even during the lifetime of the Prophet. Among his companions were a select group of about half a dozen katib-e-wahy—transcribers of the revelations. A few of these scribes were always present and whenever any part of the Qur’an was revealed, the Prophet would recite it to them. Thereupon, at the exact moment of revelation, they would not only commit it to memory, but would write it down on any available material, such as paper, bones, leather or skin. In former times when the accepted way of disseminating the subject matter of a book was to memorize it, then recite it, it was quite exceptional that the Qur’an should have been both memorized and preserved in writing. This was like having a ‘double checking’ system, whereby memory plus written words and written words plus memory could be constantly checked against each other.
The second point concerns the arrangement of the verses and chapters of the Qur’an. When the Qur’an was revealed in parts, at different times according to the demand of circumstances, how did it come to be arranged in its present form? We find the answer in books of hadith. It has been proved from authentic traditions that the angel Gabriel, who conveyed the revelations of God to the Prophet, had himself arranged these verses. According to the traditions, each year during the month of Ramazan, the angel Gabriel came to the Prophet and recited before him all the Quranic verses revealed up till that time, in the order in which they exist today. And after listening to the recitation by the angel Gabriel, the Prophet repeated the verses in the order in which he had heard them from Gabriel. This dual process has been termed al-Irza, ‘mutual presentation’ in the books of hadith.
It is also established in these books that in the last year of the Prophet’s life, when the revelations had been completed, Gabriel came to the Prophet and recited the entire Qur’an in the existing order twice, and similarly the Prophet also recited to Gabriel the entire Qur’an twice. This final presentation is called al-Arz al-Akhirah in the books of hadith. (Fathul Bari, p. 659-663)
In this way, when by the help of Gabriel the Qur’an was fully arranged, the Prophet recited it to his companions on different occasions in the order with which we are familiar today. In this way the Qur’an was preserved in its present order in the memory of tens of thousands of the companions during the lifetime of the Prophet himself.
In 632 A.D. when the Prophet died at the age of 63 years, the Qur’an existed in two forms: one, in the memory of the several thousand companions, since they repeated the Qur’an daily on different occasions, having learned it by rote in what is now its present order; two, in writing—on pieces of paper and other materials used for writing in those days. These scriptures were preserved by the companions. Although not in their present order, all the parts of the Qur’an existed at that time in written form.
After the death of the Prophet, Abu Bakr Siddiq was appointed the first caliph. It was during his caliphate that the compilation of the Qur’an was carried out. Zaid ibn Thabit, the Prophet’s foremost scribe, and an authority on the Qur’an was entrusted with this task. His work was more a process of collection than of compilation. That is, the scattered bits and pieces of the Qur’an in written form were collected by him, not so that they could be assembled and bound in one volume, but so that they could be used to verify the authenticity of the Qur’an as memorized by countless individuals and passed on in oral tradition. Once this exact correspondence between the oral and written forms of the Qur’an had been established beyond any doubt, Zaid proceeded to put the verses of the Qur’an down on paper in their correct order. The volume he produced was then handed over to the caliph, and this remained in the custody of the Prophet’s wife, Hafsa. The third caliph Osman arranged for several copies of this text to be sent to all the states and placed in central mosques where the people could prepare further copies.
In this way the message of the Qur’an spread further and further both through oral tradition and hand written copies until the age of the press dawned. Many printing presses were established in the Muslim world, where the beautiful calligraphy of the scriptures was reproduced after its content had been certified by memorizers of the Qur’an. Thus once again with the help of memorized versions and written texts, correct, authentic copies were prepared; then with the publication of these copies on a large scale, the Qur’an spread all over the world. It is an irrefutable fact that any copy of the Qur’an found in any part of the world at any time will be exactly the same as that handed down to the Muslims by the Prophet in his last days, arranged in the form still extant today.