The Preservation of the Quran

The very first injunction given to the Prophet – ‘Read in the name of your Lord who created', stresses the importance of knowledge (96:1). And the last words of revelation pertain to the life hereafter (2:281).

The Quran was revealed over a period of twenty-three years and was written down in its entirety during the Prophet's lifetime, although the verses were not gathered together in one volume at that time (AI-Katani, V.2, p.384).

For the first twenty-three years the Prophet himself was the fountainhead of Qur'anic learning. Then he appointed certain of his followers to convey the message of the Qur'an after him. These were men who, having memorized the entire Quranic text with complete accuracy, were fully competent to impart its teachings. During the caliphate of Umar Faruq, the second caliph of Islam, a man who had come from Kufa to Madina told the caliph that there was someone in Kufa who was teaching the scriptures from memory. At this Caliph Umar was enraged. But when he found out that the person was none other than Abdullah ibn Masood, he regained his composure, (Istiab, Vol. I, p. 377) the reason being that Abdullah ibn Masood was one of those appointed by the Prophet himself to perform this service. Other more prominent scholars of the Qur'an were as follows: Usman, Ali, Ubayy ibn Kaab, Zayd ibn Thabit, Ibn Masood, Abu Darda, Abu Moosa Ashari, Salim Maula Abi Huzayfa.

However, these Muslims, who had been assigned this task, could not survive forever. Undoubtedly, they were going to leave the world one by one, and then there would be the risk of the Qur'an falling into the hands of less responsible, less knowledgeable people, who might not preserve it intact and who would almost certainly differ as to its true meaning. There was even the danger of its being entirely lost to posterity. With the death of 700 of the Prophet's Companions in the Battle of Yamamah in 12 A.H., this danger began to loom large.

It has been recorded in the annals of history that "when Salim Maula Abi Huzayfa was martyred, Umar felt the danger of the Qur'an being destroyed and came to Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, to discuss this" (Fathul Bari, v. 9, p. 5). Salim was one of the few surviving companions who had been selected by the Prophet himself to spread the teachings of the Qur'an. The solution suggested by Umar to Abu Bakr was to preserve the Qur'an by making a formal compilation of it in written form.

As has been established, the Prophet always arranged for each passage of the Qur'an to be recorded in writing as soon as it was revealed. This kitabat (writing down on paper) was so meticulous a procedure that after verse 95 of chapter 4 had been revealed, and the words "except those who are disabled" were revealed again as an addition to the same verse, it was arranged that this phrase – according to Imam Malik – be written at the same moment by the transcriber. (Durr Mansoor, Vol. 2, p.203)

It was customary for the Prophet to ask the transcriber to read out the verses after writing them down. According to Zayd ibn Thabit, if any part was missed out in the writing, he would correct it and only after this written work was fully completed would the Prophet allow the propagation of those verses (Majmauz Zawaid, vol. I, p.60).

The number of transcribers who worked at different times is put at forty-two. According to Ibn Abdul Bar, Hanzala ibn Rabi was the chief transcriber. He was asked to remain in the company of the Prophet at all times (Aqd AI-Farid, v. 4, p. 114), a foolproof arrangement whereby a number of the companions possessed passages of the Qur'an in written form by the time of the Prophet's death. A sizeable number, four of whom are worth mentioning: Abu Darda, Muaz ibn Jabal, Zayd ibn Thabit and Abu Zayd even possessed the complete Qur'an in its present arrangement.

It has been established from authentic traditions that the angel Gabriel, who conveyed the revelations of God to the Prophet, himself arranged these verses: each year during the month of Ramadan, Gabriel would come to the Prophet and recite before him all the Quranic verses revealed up till that time in the order in which they exist today, after which the Prophet would repeat the verses in exactly the same order. This dual process has been termed al-Irza, 'mutual presentation,' in the books of hadith.

It has also been established 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)

When by the help of Gabriel the Qur'an was fully and systematically arranged, the Prophet recited it to his companions on different occasions in the order with which we are familiar today. The Qur'an was thus preserved in its pristine form in the memories of tens of thousands of the companions during the Prophet's lifetime.

Go through the following sections to understand how the Quran was preserved for all eternity.

The Three Stages of Preservation

Quran’s Authentic Copy

Caliphate of Uthman

Divine Arrangement