Extract from the Introduction of Dhiya ul Qur’an (in-depth commentary/tafsir on the Qur’an)
By Pir Mohammad Karam Shah al-Azhari
The Messenger of Allah had appointed a group of his Companions, well-versed in the art of writing, to write down the Qur’an. These persons, known as ‘the Scribes of the Revelation’, would write down the revealed verse or verses as the Messenger of Allah dictated. He would give them clear instructions as to the exact point where the revealed verses were to be placed in the Surah to which they belonged. Thus the verses of the Qur’an were preserved in writing, as soon as they were revealed, on pieces of paper and bone, on palm-leaves, on tablets of stone, but the Qur’an did not exist in the form of a single bound volume. The most important way of preserving the Qur’an was, however, its memorisation by the Messenger of Allah’s Companions whom he encouraged to learn by heart as much of the Word of Allah as they could. The recitation of the verses of the Qur’an in daily prayers was obligatory from the very beginning; thus every Muslim had to commit to memory some part of the Qur’an. There was no shortage of persons amongst the Companions who knew the whole of the Qur’an by heart.
After the demise of the Prophet of Allah, some seven hundred huffaaz (memorisers of the Qur’an), who had committed the entire Qur’an to memory, were martyred in the Battle of Yamamah which was fought between the Muslims and the followers of Musaylimah the Liar. This loss upset Sayyidina ‘Umar, who feared that more Muslims who had preserved the Qur’an in their chests would fall in the war against the apostates. He therefore approached Sayyidina Abu Bakr and said, “The end of the war against apostates is not in sight. If the rate of the martyrdom of the huffaaz continues, we might be deprived of the Word of Allah. It is time we collected it in the form of a book.” Sayyidina Abu Bakr said, “’Umar, I am not prepared to undertake what the Messenger of Allah did not do.” However, Sayyidina ‘Umar succeeded in convincing the Khalifa, Sayyidina ‘Abu Bakr, that the collection of the Qur’an in the form of a book was indeed necessary. Sayyidina Abu Bakr called Sayyidina Zayd bin Thabit and instructed him to collect the Qur’an in a single volume. Sayyidina Zayd is reported to have remarked that if Sayyidina Abu Bakr had commanded him to move a mountain from one place to another, he would not have found it more difficult and perplexing than the collection of the Qur’an. He too declined to attempt something which had not been done during the life of the Prophet, but in due time he realised the necessity and importance of collecting the Qur’an. He devoted himself to this noble task, and prepared the first complete manuscript of the Holy Qur’an in one volume. This manuscript remained in the custody of Sayyidina Abu Bakr, After his death, it passed into the possession of Sayyidina ‘Umar, and after his martyrdom it was kept in the house of Sayyida Hafsa, one of the Mothers of the Believers (ummuhatul mu’mineen).
Arabic was the mother tongue of all Arabs. Although it was the common tongue of all Arab tribes, it was spoken in various dialects, as is the case with all languages. In the beginning, the Arab tribes were allowed to recite the Qur’an in their local dialects; this did not lead to any confusion, for though the members of each tribe spoke their own dialect, they were familiar with the other dialects. However, when Islam crossed the borders of Arabia, and non-Arab people entered the fold of Islam, the situation changed. Various groups of converts to Islam learnt the Qur’an from Arabs belonging to different tribes and, being unaware of the different dialects of Arabic, each group thought that the pronunciation taught to it was the only correct pronunciation. This led to differences amongst them as to the correct way of reciting the Qur’an, and sometimes these differences developed into serious quarrels. An incident during the caliphate of Sayyidina ‘Uthman, in the presence of Sayyidina Hudhayfa, highlighted the severity of the problem. Once, during the Armenian war, various groups of fresh Muslims from Iraq and Syria began to recite the Qur’an with different pronunciations of certain words. Each group accused the others of falsifying the Qur’an. When Sayyidina Hudhayfa returned to Madinah, he went straight to Khalifa ‘Uthman, apprised him of the matter, and said that these differences might result in different versions of the Muslim Scripture, as was the case with the Scriptures of the Jews and the Christians.
The Qur’an was revealed in the dialect of the Quraysh, and the other tribes were allowed to recite it in their dialects only as a matter of convenience. Now this permission was becoming a source of serious strife and discord. Sayyidina ‘Uthman, after consulting the Companions, directed Sayyidina Zayd bin Thabit to transcribe a copy of the Qur’an in the dialect of the Quraysh. This authentic volume was prepared, and its copies were sent to various cities and provinces, and people were told to strictly follow it. All other copies in different dialects were banned. Thus Sayyidina ‘Uthman eliminated the possibility of minor differences in the pronunciations of certain words developing into different versions of the Divine Book. Before closing this discussion, it would be appropriate to cite some examples of the different pronunciations of same words, in order to remove any doubts about the nature of differences. The Quraysh pronounced the word hatta (until then) as hatta, but the Bani Huzayl and Bani Thaqeef pronounced it atta, suppressing the sound of ha; the Quraysh pronounced ta’lamuun with a fathah or zabr on ta, while the Bani Asad pronounced it as ti’lamuun with a kasrah or zair on ta. Such minor variations in the pronunciations of certain words still exist in the spoken Arabic in Egypt.
These instances show the trivial nature of differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, but even such insignificant variations could not be allowed. The Qur’an that exists now, and it is available in every Muslim household from one corner of the world to another, is the same Qur’an that was revealed to the Messenger of Allah in the Arabic of the Quraysh, and collected, at the behest of Sayyidina Abu Bakr and Sayyidina ‘Uthman, in the form of a book written in the dialect of the Quraysh. Although certain orientalists have gone to great length to create doubts about the collection of the Qur’an in book form, they must admit that it has been the only standard text for the whole Muslim world up to the present day. Encyclopaedia Britannica says: “This recension (i.e. critical revision of a text) of ‘Uthman thus became the only standard text for the whole Muslim world up to the present time.” [1962 edition]
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