The Quran - History of Text
Unlike the Old and the New Testaments, the Quran has been preserved in its entirety. The Quranic revelations were memorised and recorded immediately and simultaneously upon their revelation. The Quran was revealed by God to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) over a period of about 23 years. The revelations were conveyed to the Prophet in small segment by the angel Gabriel who made the Prophet recite the revealed verses in his presence.
From the very outset, the Prophet employed two independent but mutually complementary methods for preserving the revelations. The two methods used for this purpose were memorisation and inscription. Besides ensuring independently the transmission of the revelation, the two methods also served as internal checks, thus ensuring its accurate preservation.
Islamic traditions record that the Prophet employed four principal teachers whom he personally instructed in memorising the revelations. By this method, even the correct pronunciation of the message was preserved. These teaches would then help others in their memorisation of the revealed verses. Moreover, as the revelations were received, they were also recited in the five daily prayers. Thus, the main mode of preservation and transmission of the Quranic revelations was through memorisation. Interestingly, the Quran was literally preserved by being written on the hearts of people, as prophesied in the Bible:
But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days says the Lord: "I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (1)Thus, the memorisation process proved to be the single, most effective method for preserving Quranic revelation. Moreover, the style in which the Quran was revealed is also in total conformity with Isaiah's prophecy about the new law being revealed as:
For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little. Nay, but by men of strange lips and with an alien tongue, the Lord will speak to His people to whom He has said, (2)Alternately, the revelation was also recorded in written form, soon after its receipt. Islamic tradition records that fifteen scribes were employed by the Prophet for preserving the revelations in writing from the Prophet's dictation. This method of preservation was to serve as a backup.
Once a year during the month of Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting), the angel Gabriel would recite the entire revelation, revealed up to that time with the Prophet. During the last Ramadan, after the revelations had been completed, the angel recited the entire Quranic revelation to the Prophet twice.(3) This regular annual recitation was also meant to arrange the revelations in their present order.
At the time of the Prophet's death, the number of people who had memorised the entire Quran exceeded one hundred thousand. (4) The process of new converts accepting Islam continued as did the process of memorising the entire Quran. The Quran propagated through the process of memorisation ensured its survival in its pristine purity. During the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (the first Caliph after the Prophet's death), over 500 people who knew the entire Quran by heart, were killed in a battle. This tragic event served as the catalyst to accelerate the process of preserving the written Quranic revelation as an alternative method of safeguarding God's message. Thereupon, the Caliph Abu Bakr appointed a commission and charged it with the task of compiling the Quranic revelations into one volume. The commission assembled the scribes employed by the Prophet for recording the revelations and compiled the recorded texts into one volume. The accuracy of the text of this volume was checked by the Prophet's disciples who had committed the entire Quran to their memory as well as from the written scripts. This one volume compilation was completed within two years of the Prophet's death.
The third Caliph, Uthman, had the same commission prepare seven additional copies of the Quran. After being thoroughly checked for accuracy, these copies were distributed throughout the Muslim world. Some of these copies still survive. One such copy is preserved in a Turkish Museum, which has been used by leading authorities to compare the current Quranic text. After additional copies of the Quran were compiled and distributed throughout the Muslim world, the third Caliph Uthman considered it essential that the original recording be destroyed, due to the following reasons:
Contrasting the compilation of the Old and New Testaments with that of the Quran, Divine designs become more evident. Muslims can claim that the Quran around the world is uniform, even in its minutest detail. It is exactly the same as was originally revealed to the Holy Prophet and which was assembled in one volume by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, among other independent sources, testifies to this fact (5) and concedes this point to the Muslims. The authenticity of the Quran is beyond the slightest shadow of doubt. It had to be so because God Himself has promised to safeguard the integrity of His Word. (6)
The Quran has the additional unique distinction among all other scriptures of being an entirely verbal revelation. That, in itself, is a guarantee that it would not be perverted or twisted. All non-Muslim scholars who have researched into the integrity of the text of the Holy Quran agree that it is an exact and accurate version of the verbal revelation that Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (sa), claimed that God had vouchsafed to him. This Divine guarantee of safeguarding the Quran is not confined to preserving the integrity of the text alone. It extends to all factors that bear upon the preservation of the Quran as the perfect source of Divine guidance for the whole of mankind, for all times. For instance, it is guaranteed that the language in which it was revealed, namely Arabic, would always continue to be a living language in current use, so that no difficulty might be met with in determining and comprehending the meaning of the Quran. Arabic is today spoken and written over a much greater area of the earth and by many hundred times the number of people than was the case when Quran was revealed. Besides, the Holy Prophet predicted that at the beginning of every century, God Almighty would raise someone, from among his followers, who would set forth from the Quran the guidance that may be needed by mankind from time to time. In the case of no other scriptures has the integrity of its text, its language and its guidance been maintained.
That Divine Challenge put forth almost 1400 years ago is still valid today. The very fact that no other versions of the Quran exists is overwhelming evidence of its Divine protection. M. Bucaille in his book The Bible, The Quran and Science testifies to the above facts and some excerpts from his book follow:
If we now examine the teachings of Muslim exegetes, we shall see that they present the Qur'an in quite a different manner. About fourteen centuries ago at a meditation retreat near Mecca, Muhammad received the first message through the Archangel Gabriel. After a long period of silence, the first message was followed by successive revelations spanning a period of some twenty years. They were not only transcribed while the Prophet was still alive, but also recited by heart by his early followers and later by the many believers who had gathered around him. After his death (i~ 632 A.D.), the various elements were brought together in a book, henceforth known as The Qur'an. It contains the Word of God to the exclusion of any human addition. The manuscripts we possess from the first century of Islam authenticate today's text. (7)In conclusion then, the Pentateuch (Torah), as we know it today, is not exactly the same as it was revealed to Moses. The later books of Old Testament have also undergone many revisions and modifications for many words and phrases found in the older versions have been changed in subsequent revisions. It may be coincidental that many of the changed words, or sections are those which the Muslims have used in support of their view point. In spite of the inconsistencies among the various versions, the Old Testament still foretells the promulgation of a new law from God to guide future generations.
The absolute accuracy of the Bible can be best described by quoting from the preface of the Revised Standard Version, which describes it as the most probable reconstruction of events based on the best judgement of competent scholars.(10)
The Quran, on the other hand, stands alone in its absolute authenticity. Its accuracy is beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt. This fact has been corroborated by many independent researchers and can also be verified today through comparison with on of the first written copies.