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According to Muslims, the Quran has never been altered by humans down the centuries and is today what it was when first narrated to the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

For this to be true requires a master Quran that all others are copied from, otherwise copying copies leads to errors which become magnified, depending upon the number of copies of copies made. so my questions are:

Where are the master copies of the Quran kept?

How are they prevented from deteriorating over the years?

When were they created?

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There are two strategies of preserving something for a long time. One, as you alluded to, involves one standard, reference master copy. This is what was done for example with the units of measurement - the gold standard was stored in a temperature-controlled room in France. Everything else was measured against it. The principle here is that it is extremely difficult for anybody to get past security and introduce any sort of corruption.

The second way is to make a billion copies of it and distribute them throughout the world. If one of them becomes corrupt or damaged or somehow gets modified, there are 999,999,999 copies that easily point out the discrepancy. At the same time, it is near impossible to track down even a majority of these copies and alter all of them identically. So the principle here is that it is extremely difficult to alter enough copies so as to cause confusion.

The Qur'an is preserved through the second mechanism. Tens of millions of people have memorized the Qur'an everywhere around the world. That is how it is preserved. Sure, there are also hundreds of millions of printed copies as well, but they are not the standard. Even today, when someone memorizes the Qur'an, they recite it orally to their teacher in order to receive certification.

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    How can the Quran be preserved when there isn't one master orator to listen from and copy? It's like the game of Chinese Whispers en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_whispers – Larry Harson Aug 19 '12 at 10:34
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    @LarryHarson Read my answer carefully - it's nothing like Chinese whispers because there isn't one chain. There are multiple chains, all going back to the "master orator" as you refer to them (Speech of God relayed via Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them)). And because there are multiple chains, the second strategy I outlined above works. Think of it like designing a pamphlet now, and then printing 10 billion copies straightaway and then air-dropping them all across the world. – Ansari Aug 20 '12 at 3:10
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    @LarryHarson - When all these multiple chains are identical that tells you that either the individual accumulation of errors were the same for all chains or that there was no accumulation of error. Occam's razor tells us that the latter is the most probable by far. So yes, the Quran we have today is the same one used in the 7th century. – System Down Aug 20 '12 at 12:24
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    @LarryHarson - As Ansari said before, we're talking about multiple chains of narration. I would describe it more accurately as a tree of narration where the master narrator is the first node (to use a programming metaphor). So if there were accumulation of errors occurring in these chains (a la Chinese whispers), the possibility of all of them saying the same thing (as they do today) is statistically impossible. Another thing, passing the Quran to another hafiz (a certified memorizer) is an extremely meticulous process that most Muslims can't even begin to pass. – System Down Aug 20 '12 at 12:45
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    @LarryHarson: And this is one of the biggest reasons that Quran is considered to be a Miracle of Allah because polluting it with some errors is next to impossible. – Aamir Dec 3 '12 at 7:37
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The First Master Copy

The word Quran means recitation, so the first "master copy" would be the hearts of millions of Muslims who know the Quran by heart. The people who know the entire Quran by heart are called as "Hafiz".

If you go to any hafiz from Malaysia to Mexico, you will see that they recite the same Quran. This is the same for any sect or denomination in Muslims.

When the Prophet (pbuh) received revelation, he would himself learn it by heart & teach his companions. He would later keep checking them to make sure all of them knew it properly.

Also, every Ramadhan most Mosque have a full Quran recitation to make sure those that who know the full Quran by heart get a revision, while those listening too get a revision of parts that they know. These prayers are called as "taraweeh".

The Next Master Copy

The oldest entire Quran is the official copy compiled by the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) under the third Khilafah Uthman. This was completed 19 years after the Prophet (pbuh) passed away.

They were the first generation who learnt the entire Quran from the Prophet (pbuh). This Quran is still present in Topkapı Palace, in Turkey

The Other Master Copies

If you go thru the ages, Muslims built many monuments. They had parts of the Quran etched on them. Those monuments have the same Quran that you will see people recite or in the copies we read at home.

Example:

1) Taj Mahal in Agra, India has the parts of the Quran etched on it.

2) Raudat Tahera in Mumbai, India has the full Quran etched on it.

  • Are you sure Taj Mahal has the entire Quran etched on it? Wikipedia says there are some selected Suras. – Mohayemin Aug 19 '12 at 4:52
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Seen something like this in X-Files, native Americans memorizing binary code.

The whole Quran is recited specifically once a month in congregation, during special "Taraweeh" prayers in Ramadan. About 2 hours each evening for 30 days. The whole Quran is usually finished by the 27th day. As the Imam recites people in the rows are free to correct the recitation if there is a mistake. It is this that I believe preserves the Quran, not the written book format.

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