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How do we know that the Qur'an has never been changed and there were no mistakes in human memory when the verses were being passed down from person to person?

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The Qur’aan was revealed either with relevance to the events and incidents that took place during the life of the messenger (saw) or that Allah choose to reveal it without there being an incident related to its revelation.

On occasions Allah revealed whole surahs at once, at others times parts of surahs and at other times parts of Ayahs.

Stages in the collection of the Qur’aan

The people of knowledge mention that there were three main stages in the collection of the Qur’aan:

1- The Era of the Messenger (Sallahu alayhi wassalam)

During this period, the qur'an was being recorded by the companions of the Messenger (Sallallahu alaihi was Salam) as and when it was revealed and recited to them by the Messenger (Sallallahu alaihi was Salam).

The main method of preserving the Qur’aan in this period was through memory. The Arabs were well known for having exceptional memories and thus it was memorised by many in this period through this means. It was also preserved in writing during the life of the prophet (Sallallahu alahi was salam) on various material. It was preserved on Animal skins, bone, Date palm wood and animal shoulder.

The known memorisors and recitors of the qur’aan were many. That which will bring clarity to this fact is the hadeeth of Anas ibn Maalik who said:

“The prophet (Sallallahu alahi was salam) sent seventy men who were known as ‘Al Qurraa’ (The proficient reciters of the qur’aan) upon a mission. They were confronted by the people of the tribes of Hayaan, Ra’l and dhakwaan (Tribes who had animosity with the messenger (Sallallahu alaihi wa salam) and were (all) killed…” (Collected by Al Bukhaari 4088 and Muslim 1581)

On the basis of this incident the messenger supplicated against them in the dua of Qunoot for the period of a month.

The Hadeeth establishes the fact that the memorizers of the qur’aan at the time of the messenger (Sallallahu alaihi wa salam) were many.

Imaam Abu Ubaid in his book ‘Al Qiraa’aat’ mentions some of the most popular of those who had memorised the quar’aan. From them we have the four caliphs of the messenger (Sallallahu alaihi was salam) and the likes of Abdullah ibn mas’ood, Abdullah ibn Umar, Abdullah ibn Abbaas, Abdullah ibn Zubair, Abdullah ibn al Amr’ ibnil Aas, Saalim the freed slave of Abi Hudhaifa, Ubayy Ibn Ka’b, Mu’aadh ibn Jabal, Zaid ibn Thaabit and Abu Darda. Alongside Aisha, Hafsa and Umm Sala to name but a few.

2 - The period of Abu Bakr As Siddeeq (Radhiyallahu ‘Anhu)

During the caliphate of Abu Bakr in the twelfth year after Hijra, Abu Bakr commissioned the second stage in the compilation and preservation of the Qur’aan. The reason for his compilation was that which took place during the Battle of Yamaamah a large number of memorisers of the qur’aan were killed in battle. Abu Bakr, who was the khalifah at the time was concerned about the deaths of the proficient in the recitation of the qur’aan since it was not officially collected in one book at the time but either memorized in its totality or preserved in writing in various places

During this battle known as ‘the wars of apostasy’ against Musailima the great liar and false prophet, a great number of memorizers of the Qur’aan were killed (more than 400 in number) thus Abu Bakr in order to protect the qur’aan had it officially collected since at that time it was either preserved writing present in various places or it was preserved in totality in the chests of the believers. An explanation of this incident occurs in the following hadeeth in Saheeh Bukhaari. Zaid Ibn Thaabit (who was commissioned by Abu Bakr to undertake the task of collecting the Qur’aan, narrates the conversation he had with Abu Bakr in the presence of Umar, who had suggested to Abu Bakr that the Qur’aan should be collected, the incident occurs in the following hadeeth:

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 Yamaama (where a great number of Qurra were killed). ‘Umar was in the presence of Abu Bakr, when he (Abu Bakr) said (to Zaid): “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) elsewhere, whereby a large part of the Qur’an may be lost, unless you collect it. Thus 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 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 Thaabit 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’aan 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 will you carry out a thing which the Prophet has not done?’ Abu Bakr said, ‘By Allah, it is a good thing. So I continued discussing 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 Suraat-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, remained 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. (Collected by Imaam Al Bukhaari in his ‘Saheeh’ 4679)

This ordering of the collection and compilation of the Qur’aan carried out by Abu Bakr is mentioned as being from the greatest of his virtues.

3 - The compilation of the Third Caliph Uthmaan - Radhiyallahu 'Anhu

The Qur’aan, as is established in authentic hadeeth, was revealed in seven ‘Ahruf’ (different Arabic dialects). The revelation of the qur’aan in these dialects was to accommodate the various dialect of the Arab tribes in the region at that time. During the time of Uthmaan there occurred differing over the modes of recitation. This differing led to a big trial among the muslims and to fighting and bloodshed.

Thus trial was what lead to the third stage in the Compilation of the Qur’aan.

Narrated Anas bin Malik: Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to ‘Uthmaan at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to ‘Uthmaan, ‘O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Qur’an), as Jews and the Christians have differed (before)’. So ‘Uthmaan sent a message to Hafsa saying, ‘Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we mayncompile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you’. Hafsa sent it to ‘Uthmaan. ‘Uthmaan then ordered Zaid bin Thaabit, ‘Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Sa’eed bin Al-’Aas and ‘Abdur Rahman bin Haarith bin Hishaam to copy the manuscripts in perfect copies. ‘Uthmaan said to the three Quraishi men (the three other than Zaid ibn Thaabit), ‘If you disagree with Zaid bin Thaabit on any point in the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish as the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue’. They did so, and when they had written copies, ‘Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. ‘Uthmaan sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Zaid bin Thaabit added, ‘i could not find a verse from Sura al-Ahzab when we copied the Qur’an which I used to hear Allah’s Apostle reciting. So we searched and found it with Khuzaima bin Thaabit Al-Ansaari’. (That verse was):

‘Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah’ (33: 23).

Thus we see the difference between the collection of Abu Bakr and the collection of Uthmaan is that the compilation of Abu Bakr was done with the intent of gathering the parts of the Qur’aan that where preserved in writing with the companions into one official book, while the collection of Uthmaan was to establish a standardised Qur’aan that the people would unite upon and not differ about.

(Collected by Imaam Al Bukhaari in his ‘Saheeh’ 4702)

Thus the three stages are in summary:

  1. Memorisation and preservation (During the Era of the Messenger (Sallallahu ‘alaihi was salam)

  2. Collection and compilation (During the Era of Abu Bakr As Sideeq – Radhiyallahu ‘Anhu)

  3. Standardisation (During the Era of Uthmaan – Radhiyallahu ‘Anhu)

Source: Concise Principles In Tafseer and The Science Of The Qur'aan Part 5 by Abu Hakeem Bilaal Davis

Thus we see that, really great caution was taken to preserve this Qur'an. Not to mention Allah also vowed to preserve this noble Qur'an:

"Verily, I revealed the Dhikr and verily I will preserve it." [Noble Quran 15:9]

It was not only preserved by memorization but also was written down. And extra care was taken to preserve it, compile and standardize it. And really strict condition were placed in standardizing (Four people reciting the same thing!). And the Qur'an that we recite today is the one compiled by Uthman (Radiallahu Anhu), preserved and passed down in original Arabic and not translations.

And Allah knows the best.

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    Perhaps you could also add that the Qur'an has been preserved and passed down in the original Arabic, no translations. – Ansari Jun 26 '12 at 19:37
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We know because the Quran has reached us (today) by means of tawatur (تواتر).

Tawatur is a term that means that something was passed down to many people by other many people. In other words, we can clearly show that there is a line of reporting dating back to the days of the prophet (pbuh), and that in every level of this reporting there are many people reporting the same thing and no where is the reporting being done by a single person. This method insures redundancy which in turn assures accuracy through time.

I'm not sure if this is still done today but when my grandfather memorized the Quran he was given a certificate from his teacher that clearly stated who my grandfather's teacher was, who the teacher's teacher was, who the teacher's teacher's teacher was, and so on until the prophet (pbuh) himself.

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    Quran certificates are still popular. In this certificate the series of people from prophet mohamed till the certificate holder. – Yousf Jun 26 '12 at 19:19
  • -1 Because after your answer, I am still left wondering "How do we know that the Qur'an has never been changed and there were no mistakes in human memory when the verses were being passed down from person to person?" – Alex Strasser Nov 20 '18 at 7:27
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You can check the Quran of Caliph Uthman (the 3rd Calipha after Prophet Mohammad PBUH), the Quran he ordered to be written is available at 5 major Islamic cities museums. Get any of these copies and compare to any copy of Quran today.

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    What cities hold them? – Dynamic Jun 26 '12 at 19:37
  • As I know Cairo, Tashkent and Istanbul. – mmdemirbas Jun 27 '12 at 7:11
  • Well this isn't really a practical answer because 1st not anybody would be allowed to look in such an old book 2nd you said 5 copy's but AFAIK i only know about 2 of them for sure that still exist the one in Istanbul and the one in Cairo. And even if you could open them it would be very hard to read, because of the old text (Arabic from that time differs a lot of that today) and because of the age, the text my lack some words, pages etc.! – Medi1Saif Nov 26 '15 at 13:56
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The prophet PBUH ordered some of his followers to record the Quran that was sent down, including:

  • Mouad Ben Jabil
  • Ubay Ben Kaeb
  • Zaid Ben Thabet
  • Abu Zaid

However, there was differences in many words and way things were pronounced.

It wasn't until the Companion Uthman took rule (30 years after the Prophet), based on the opinion of the companion Hodaifa Bin Alyaman that he should only have 1 copy of the Quran instead of having multiple copies that are not the same. Which is what he exactly did by keeping the Quran of Abu Bakir and destroying all the other copies.

Not to say that at least 10 agreed about ways of reading the Quran are used throughout the world. Some which gives different meanings to words and how they are said (for example: Malik (King) and Malik (Owner)).

Majority scholar base the opinion that the Quran will never change based on the following Ayah:

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Indeed, it is We who sent down the Dikhar and indeed, We will be its guardian. [15:9]

Many of them say that Dikhar here is the Quran, sadly there is no other Ayah or Hadith that backs that up, totally based on the opinion of the Mufasreen. Quran can indeed changed somewhat, and would have changed more deeply if it wasn't for the companions who recorded it (since many of those who memorized the Quran died out during many Jihad wars).

However those changes that occur (from what we can see from the 10 readings) aren't that major and do not distort the overall message, thus the idea that Quran will never change.

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Of course the Quran changed, because it was memorized by many different people. If not, there would be no reason to collect it, or to standardize it. But everyone knows there was a collection phase and a standardization phase. If it never changed, then a single memorized version would be all they needed. But instead they went through great troubles to coordinate and standardize all the different versions. Then they ordered all of the other versions destroyed. But why destroy them if they were exactly the same?

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