Origin and development of the Qur’an

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Muslims believe that the wording of the Qur’anic text that we have today is identical to that revealed to Muhammad himself; words of God delivered to Muhammad through Jibreel (Gabriel).

Muhammad, according to tradition, could neither read nor write, but would simply recite what was revealed to him for his companions to write down and memorize. This tradition of memorization is still very strong among Muslims. The Qur’an has remained in the hearts of millions of Muslims throughout the world in the centuries since Muhammad’s mission. Muslims regard this as evidence of the fulfillment of God’s promise to preserve the Qur’an:

“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).” (15:9)

The very word Qur’an is usually translated as “recital,” indicating that it cannot exist as a mere text. To be able to perform salat (prayer), a religious obligation in Islam, a Muslim is required to learn at least some suras of the Qur’an (typically starting with the first sura, al-Fatiha, known as the “seven oft-repeated verses,” and then moving on to the shorter ones at the end). The more of the Qur’an learned, the better. A person whose recital repertoire encompasses the whole Qur’an is called a Qari’ (قَارٍئ) or Hafiz (which translates as “protector” or “memorizer”). Muhammad is regarded as the first Hafiz.

Muhammad’s companions began recording all the suras in writing before Muhammad died in 632; written copies of various suras during his lifetime are frequently alluded to in the traditions. For instance, in the story of the conversion of Umar ibn al-Khattab (when Muhammad was still at Mecca), his sister is said to have been reading a text of surat Ta-Ha, and at Medina, about 65 Companions are said to have acted as scribes for him at one time or another, and he would regularly call upon them to write down revelations immediately after they came.

According to Islamic tradition, the first complete compilation of the Qur’an in one volume was made in the first Caliph Abu Bakr’s time by Zayd ibn Thabit, who “gathered the Qur’an from various parchments and pieces of bone, and from the chests (ie memories) of men.” This copy was kept in Hafsa bint Umar’s house. However, during the caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan, a dispute developed about the use of various dialects (ahruf) that the Qur’an was being recited. Some were also alarmed by the reported divergences in the recitation of the revelation, especially among new Muslims. In response, Uthman made the decision of codifying and standardizing the text. According to conflicting Islamic traditions, he had a committee, that included Zayd and several prominent members of Quraysh, to produce a standard copy of the text, based on the compilation in the keeping of Hafsa.
12th century Andalusian Qur’an

When finished, Uthman sent out copies of it to the various corners of the Islamic empire, and ordered the destruction of all copies that differed from it. Several manuscripts, including the Samarkand manuscript, are claimed to be one of the original copies Uthman sent out; however, many scholars dispute that Samarkand is Uthmanic copy. Among the recently discovered Sanaa Qur’an manuscripts, at least three are dated to before 50 AH. Inscriptional evidence begins somewhat later; the earliest dated inscriptions containing portions of the Qur’an other than the basmala are dated to around 70 AH.

Beside the known earlier versions from Abdallah Ibn Masud and Ubay Ibn Ka’b, there exist also some reports about a Shiite version which was allegedly compiled by Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, which he gave up in favor of Uthman’s collection. Muslim scholars assume that the differences between the versions consisted mostly of orthographical and lexical variants and differing count of verses. All three of the mentioned people (Ibn Masud, Ubay Ibn Ka’b & Ali) were in positions of authority that would allow them to oppose any variations that existed between their collection and that of Uthman’s. But to the contrary they all supported the Uthmanic version and continued to serve under the Caliph’s rule.

Since Uthman’s version contained no diacritical marks, and could thus be read in various ways by those who had not memorised it, around the year 700 the development of a vocalized version started.The oldest existing copy of the full text is from the ninth century. Today the Qur’an is published in fully vocalized versions.

Today ten canonical readings of the Qur’an and several uncanonical exist. This sevener-system was laid down by Ibn Mujahid who tried to find the special characteristics of each reading and thus derived common rules by analogical reasoning (qiyas). They are:

1. Nafi’ of Madina (169/785), transmitted by Warsh and Qaloon (197/812)
2. Ibn Kathir of Makka (120/737), transmitted by Ahmed AlBazzy and Konbol
3. Ibn ‘Amir of Damascus (118/736), transmitted by Hisham and Ibn Zakwan
4. Abu ‘Amr of Basra (148/770), transmitted by Al Duri and Al Sosy
5. ‘Asim of Kufa (127/744), transmitted by Shoba and Hafs (180/796)
6. Hamza of Kufa (156/772), transmitted by Khalaf and Khallad
7. Al-Kisa’i of Kufa (189/804), transmitted by Abou Al Hares and Duri (246/860)

These readings differ in the vocalization (tashkil تشكيل) of a few words. By far the two best-known readings of the Qur’an are the Warsh (ورش) and Hafs (حفص) readings; the others are almost never used.

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