The Compilation of Quran and whether the Oldest Quran has anything except historic value

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On a night of Ramzan in the year 610 AD as Prophet Mohammed (570 –632AD) was meditating in the cave of Hira near Mecca, where he was wont to retire in seclusion, the angel Gabriel visited him and revealed to him,

“Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clot. Read, for your Lord is most Generous, Who teaches by means of the pen, teaches man what he does not know.” (96: 1-5)

The revelations were made over a period of 22 years and the last revelation was sent down to the Prophet in 632 AD: “Today I perfected your religion for you and completed my favor to you and have chosen for you Al-Islam as your religion.” (5:3)

The word Quran is derived form the Arabic verb qaraʼa which means “he read” or “he recited”.

The Prophet himself was not literate and so instead of writing it down he would memorize it and come and recite it in front of his Companions who would then recite it continuously in his presence till they committed it to memory perfectly. Men who memorized the Quran were caleed Hafiz and that tradition continues even today. The other way of preserving the Quran was to write it down at once on tablets, palm branches, shorn of leaves, or animal skin. There were 43 scribes during the lifetime of the Prophet chief of whom was Zayd ibn Thabit. They were known as kuttab up wahy – scribes of the revelation. It is reported that among the Companions of the Prophet (S) at least 4 people,- ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib ,Said ibn ‘Ubayd ibn al-Numan, Abu al-Darda’, Mu’adh ibn Jabal, ‘Thabit ibn Zayd and ‘Ubayd ibn Mu’awiyah ibn Zayd had compiled the Qur’an during the Prophet’s lifetime.

Shia and Sunni traditions mention the compilation of the full Qur’an by ‘Ali ibn Ali Talib after the Prophet’s demise.

Hazrat Ali (a.s.) had said,

“The Holy Prophet (s.a. w.a.) instructed me that after his shrouding, I should not come out of the house till the time I have collected the Quran. This was because at that time the Quran was on the date-skins and on the hack of the camels. ”

(quoted in Sunni-Shia sources)

This Quran written in the order of revelation of the surahs was never part of the codex, or seen by anyone apart from Ali or his sons, as Ali himself withdrew it once the Uthmanic codex was established so that there is only one Holy Book of the Muslims.

In 632 after the passing away of the Prophet and in the Caliphate of the first Caliph Abu Bakr a battle was fought against a tribe and their self proclaimed prophet. This is called the Battle of Yamama. In this battle 450 qurra or reciters of the Quran were killed leading to a fear that the Quran as an oral tradition may be lost in its original condition. The present compilation is the one made by Zayd ibn Thabit at the order of Abu Bakr, the first caliph from original recordings and memories, corroborated by witnesses.

This compiled text was deposited as a source of reference first with the first caliph Abu Bakr, then the second Caliph Umar and remained in the possession of the latter’s daughter Hafsah until 642 AD. Hafsah was also married to the Prophet.

When Uthman bin Affan became the third Caliph and he felt that there were differences creeping in the second compilation was ordered and the copy of the Quran with Hafsah was recalled and used as a reference point to remove all differences.

Once this was compiled ‘master copy’ (al-mushaf al-imam), numbering from four to nine were made and sent to major Islamic centre of Kufa, Basra, Makkah, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and Madinah. These masahif, which became famous as “‘Uthmani Codices,” remained intact for a long time

Thereafter, the handwritten compilations of the Qur’an were destroyed on the Caliph’s order for the sake of eliminating differences among Muslims. Even the copy with Hafsah was burnt after her demise.

There was a Uthmani codex existing in Damascus Grand Mosque and Ibn Battuta (d. 778/1376) has recorded its presence in the eastern side of the hall of worship, facing the mihrib and that this repository was opened to the public after the congregational prayer and the people throng to embrace it.

According to Kurd ‘Ali, (Khutat al-Sham) this Qur’an existed in the mosque of Damascus until the year 1310/1892, but that year it was destroyed in a fire at the mosque.

Dr. Ramyar’s Ta’rikh ‘al Qur’an,without mentioning any source, writes: “It appears that fragments of the verses of the Qur’an attributed to the ‘Uthmani script were taken by Amir Taymur Gorkani with him from Syria to Samarqand with the intention of having them placed at his tomb. This manuscript was later transferred to the library of the Imperial Institute of Archeology at Leningrad and in 1905 C.E. fifty copies of it were lithographed, of which twenty-five were gifted eminent figures from Islamic countries.”

There are copies existing in many parts some of which are handwritten by Ali in Kufic script and by Uthman.

There is a copy of the Quran written by Hazrat Ali in Maulana Azad Library, AMU, Aligarh, Raza Library Rampur, Khuda Baksh Libray, Patna. There are others in other parts of the world. These would definitely be part of the second compilation.

There are two copies of the Quran in Kufic script in India Office, Library which have the inscriptions, Katabahu ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, and Katabahu Usman ibn Affan.

Sana’a in Yemen has a Grand Mosque founded by the Companion of the Prophet. A room was discovered in 1965, which had copies of the Quran.

A German team brought to study them and the oldest ones were in Hijazi script a name given to the early Arabian script which developed in the Hejaz region of the Arabian peninsular. These have a 95% probability of belonging to the period between 578 CE and 669 CE.”

The latest Quran discovered in Birmingham

which has the world in raptures “Birmingham Qur’an manuscript dated among the oldest in the world” in Hijazi script will definitely be one of the oldest but not the oldest and also it can’t offer anything new as far as the content are concerned, considering that many copies from that period already exist in the world. So resolving enigmatic history of holy text

is something which is still an ongoing task and not one which ends here in Birmingham.

It is clear without the slightest need of any comparison between the oldest manuscripts, that what we recite as the verses of the Holy Qur’an, are exactly the same words presented before the world by Muhammad pbuh.

The ambiguity arises from interpretations of the Quran by various scholars not from the written text.

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