Last Updated on 9th June 2021
A series of articles discussing the miracle of perfect preservation of the Holy Quran and responding to modern-day criticisms.
Farhan Iqbal, Missionary, Canada
Among the ancient books available today, scholars agree the New Testament is the most well-attested book. What that means is that there are more manuscripts for the New Testament than any other book from antiquity. There are thousands of manuscripts – partially or fully – both in the original Greek language in which these were written, and in the form of translations in Latin, Ethiopic, Slavic and Armenian.
As a leading New Testament scholar, Dr Bruce Metzger proudly puts it, the book which is the runner-up next to the New Testament in terms of manuscript testimony is Homer’s Iliad with fewer than 650 Greek manuscripts. (The Case for Christ, p.78, )
However, when it comes to preservation of ancient texts, scholars have pointed out differences between these numerous manuscripts available, which makes it difficult to know without a shadow of doubt what the original words were.
Comparatively, the Holy Quran is the only ancient book that is the best preserved throughout the last 1,400 years, and this can be ascertained from the evidence and by taking a closer look at how the Quran was originally revealed and preserved since the time of Prophet Muhammadsa.
Critics of Islam have made many objections to the claim by Muslims that the Quran is perfectly preserved. This debate has become even more furious nowadays because the preservation of other holy texts, like the Bible, have also been brought under close scrutiny for the last two to three hundred years.
It is alleged, for instance, that there are different “versions” of the Quran and doubts are expressed regarding the motives of Hazrat Uthmanra when he burned certain manuscripts of the Quran in favour of the official one. In light of this, it is important to first understand what methods were used for the preservation of the Quran.
Methods of preservation of the Quran
Since the beginning of the revelation of the Holy Quran, much care was taken to ensure that it is recorded with one-hundred-percent accuracy. God Himself gave a promise in the form of a prophecy that He would safeguard the revelation of the Quran from any kind of impurities. He said:
اِنَّا نَحۡنُ نَزَّلۡنَا الذِّكۡرَ وَ اِنَّا لَهٗ لَحٰفِظُوۡنَ
“Verily, We Ourself have sent down this Exhortation, and most surely We will be its Guardian.” (Surah al-Hijr, Ch.15: V.10)
In the commentary of the above verse, in Tafsir-e-Kabir, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIra notes that it is not a coincidence that the Quran has been preserved since its revelation. In fact, its preservation is hinted at in the words “Al-Kitab” and “Qur‘an”. This means it was preserved in two ways. First, it was written down from the very beginning, and second, it has been memorised by people in full since its very first revelation. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 4, p. 17)
Other than this, he notes several other factors that contributed to the preservation of the Quran:
1. God ensured that such people exist who are able to memorise the Quran cover to cover
2. The rhythm of the Quran is very sweet and easy, enabling anyone to memorise it – fully or in parts – without difficulty
3. The recitation of the Quran was made obligatory in Salat – the five daily prayers – helping to preserve it
4. God created love in the hearts of people to recite it regularly
5. God ensured the Holy Quran spreads throughout the world right after its revelation, making it impossible for any group or government to make changes or amendments
6. Various kinds of knowledge in Islam are based on the Quran, causing the Quran to be quoted in all kinds of books related to different fields of study. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra says that in his opinion, if the quoted verses of the Quran from all these books were collected and compiled, even then, the whole Quran can be compiled from just those references
7. The academic form of Arabic never changed and can be understood even today with ease. This helped preserve the original language of the Quran in turn supporting the preservation of the Quran itself
8. God protected the Quran by sending fresh revelation in its support through Mujaddidin and other chosen ones
(For a detailed discussion of all the points for the preservation of the Quran, see pages 17-20 of Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 4)
Adding to the 8th point, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra notes that in this day and age, when irreligiousness has reached its climax, God has sent the Promised Messiahas who has purified the Quran from all incorrect interpretations and commentaries and presented it to the world in its purest form. Hence, in this manner, God has ensured the Quran is preserved both in its script and in its true meanings and message.
What is more is that the Holy Quran itself points to how much care was taken in the way it was revealed to ensure its purity. For instance, God says the Quran was revealed at a slow pace so that the Holy Prophetsa and the Companionsra could learn it methodically and thoroughly without rushing through it:
وَ قُرۡاٰنًا فَرَقۡنٰهُ لِتَقۡرَاَهٗ عَلَي النَّاسِ عَلٰي مُكۡثٍ وَّ نَزَّلۡنٰهُ تَنۡزِيۡلًا
“And the Quran We have revealed in pieces that thou mayest read it to mankind at intervals, and We have sent it down piecemeal.” (Surah Bani Isra‘il, Ch.17: V.107)
This fact is corroborated by history as it is known that the Quran was revealed over a period of 22 and a half years, which ensured safe delivery of the message from God to the Holy Prophetsa and from him to his Companionsra. It prevented it from being forgotten as there was plenty of time to memorise and revise the Quran in small, manageable portions.
Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra has noted that the Holy Prophetsa spent 7,970 days as a prophet, while the number of verses in the Quran is 6,236 and the number of words in the Quran is 77,934. This means that on average, every verse of the Quran has 12 words, while the average daily revelation of the Quran is only nine words. (Ahsanullah Danish, Az-Zikrul Mahfuz, p. 12 ) In other words, the Quran was revealed so slowly that on average, even a full verse was not revealed on a daily basis.
Some critics of Islam may allege the Quran should have been revealed all at once and cast doubt in regard to the reasoning behind its slow revelation. This allegation was made during the time of the Holy Prophetsa as well and the Holy Quran addresses it as follows:
وَ قَالَ الَّذِيۡنَ كَفَرُوۡا لَوۡ لَا نُزِّلَ عَلَيۡهِ الۡقُرۡاٰنُ جُمۡلَةً وَّاحِدَةً ۚۛ كَذٰلِكَ ۚۛ لِنُثَبِّتَ بِهٖ فُؤَادَكَ وَ رَتَّلۡنٰهُ تَرۡتِيۡلًا
“And those who disbelieve say, ‘Why was not the Quran revealed to him all at once?’ [We have revealed it]thus that We may strengthen thy heart therewith. And We have arranged it in the best form.” (Surah al-Furqan, Ch.25: V.33)
In the commentary of this verse, the Promised Messiahas writes:
“The disbelievers say, ‘Why was the Quran not revealed once?’ [God says] This is how it should have been so that We may strengthen your heart from time to time. This was also so that divine knowledge and other kinds of knowledge are taught at their own time, appropriately. This is because it is harder to understand something before its time. With this wisdom, God revealed the Holy Quran over 23 years so that the prophecies are also fulfilled during this time”. (Haqiqatul Wahi, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 22, p. 357)
The scribes of the Holy Quran
Among the various precautions taken for the preservation of the Quran, let us have a closer look at just one: the writing down of the Quran.
There were many Companionsra of the Holy Prophetsa who had the responsibility of writing down the revelation of the Holy Quran. It is narrated that:
اذا نزل عليه شيء دعا بعض من كان يكتب
“Whenever a verse was revealed, the Holy Prophetsa would call one of the scribes.” (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Musnad ‘Ashratul Mubashareen bil-jannati, Musnad Uthmanra bin Affan)
This means the Holy Prophetsa had several scribes available to him to write down the Holy Quran as it was revealed. Quoting from Fath-ul-Bari, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra gives a list of 15 scribes, the most important of whom was Hazrat Zaidra bin Thabit. (Introduction to the Study of the Holy Quran, p. 356, )
Ahsanullah Danish Sahib, a scholar of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, who consulted various historical books that contain the names of the scribes, concludes there were 28 companions who wrote down the Quran specifically during the time of the Holy Prophetsa, and he has also noted that some researchers placed the number as high as 40. (Az-Zikrul Mahfuz, p.23 )
All of this research shows that those Companionsra of the Holy Prophetsa who knew how to write, loved to write down verses of the Holy Quran and this happened from the earliest of days. It was also common for Companionsra to have some written portions of the Quran with them.
Even if those various manuscripts with parts of the Quran written were put together, complete copies of the Quran could be produced from them. On top of this, some Companionsra had written down the Quran in its entirety as shown by the following narrations:
حَدَّثَنَا قَتَادَةُ، قَالَ سَأَلْتُ أَنَسَ بْنَ مَالِكٍ ـ رَضِىَ اللّٰهُ عَنْهُ ـ مَنْ جَمَعَ الْقُرْآنَ عَلَى عَهْدِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ أَرْبَعَةٌ كُلُّهُمْ مِنَ الأَنْصَارِ أبىُّ بْنُ كَعْبٍ وَمُعَاذُ بْنُ جَبَلٍ، وَزَيْدُ بْنُ ثَابِتٍ، وَأَبُو زَيْدٍ. تَابَعَهُ الْفَضْلُ عَنْ حُسَيْنِ بْنِ وَاقِدٍ عَنْ ثُمَامَةَ عَنْ أَنَسٍ.
“Qatadara narrated: ‘I asked Anas bin Malikra: “Who collected the Quran at the time of the Prophetsa?” He replied, “Four, all of whom were from the Ansar: Ubayy bin Kaab, Muaz bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit and Abu Zaid.”’” (Sahih Bukhari, Kitab Fadha‘il-ul-Quran, Babul Qurra min Ashabin-Nabisa)
عَنْ أَنَسٍ، قَالَ مَاتَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَلَمْ يَجْمَعِ الْقُرْآنَ غَيْرُ أَرْبَعَةٍ أَبُو الدَّرْدَاءِ وَمُعَاذُ بْنُ جَبَلٍ وَزَيْدُ بْنُ ثَابِتٍ وَأَبُو زَيْدٍ
“Anas bin Malikra narrated: ‘When the Prophetsa died, none had collected the Quran but four persons: Abu Al-Darda, Muaz bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit and Abu Zaid.’” (Ibid)
Based on these two narrations, it can be determined that from the tribe of Hazrat Anasra alone, there were five people from the Ansar who had written down the Quran in its entirety during the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa.