Quran Preservation & Compilation -4 (under ‘Uthman)
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
We have actually seen in earlier posts of this series that Qur’an was put into written record during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet –may Allah bless him- but it was scattered. During the time of Abu Bakr –may Allah be pleased with him- the circumstances demanded for making an official copy of the Qur’anic text which was done by a committee headed by Zaid bin Thabit –may Allah be pleased with him. Today we discuss the the steps taken by ‘Uthman in this regard.
The manuscripts prepared under Abu Bakr –may Allah be pleased with him- remained in his custody as long as he lived. After his death they were kept with ‘Umar –may Allah be pleased with him- and when he was martyred they went to Hafsa –may Allah be pleased with her- who was not only the daughter of ‘Umar but also the widow of the Holy Prophet –may Allah bless him.
During the rule of ‘Uthman Muslim conquests reached regions like Armenia and Azerbijan. So with Islam reaching many non-Arab nations the differences in recitation of the Qur’an got manifest. Following report says about it;
Anas ibn Malik reported that Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman came to ‘Uthman while the people of Syria were conquering Armenia and Azerbaijan with the people of Iraq. Hudhayfa was alarmed by the difference in their recitation. Hudhayfa said to ‘Uthman, “Amir al-Mu’minin! Deliver this Community before they disagree about the Book as the Jews and Christians differed!”
So ‘Uthman sent a message to Hafsa, saying, “Send us the pages in your possession and we will copy them and then return them to you.” So Hafsa sent them to ‘Uthman. He ordered Zayd ibn Thabit, ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, Sa’id ibn al-‘As, and ‘Abdu’r-Rahman ibn al-Harith ibn Hisham to transcribe copies. ‘Uthman said to the group of the three Qurashis, “When you and Zayd ibn Thabit disagree about any of the Qur’an, write it in the dialect of Quraysh.
It was revealed in their language.” They did that. When they had copied it out, ‘Uthman returned the pages to Hafsa and he sent a copy of what they had copied out to every region and commanded that every sheet or copy which had any other form of the Qur’an should be burned. (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 4604)
The problems that caused consternation:
This was certainly perturbing. There were basically two issues that caused consternation.
1) People started reciting Qur’an in their own dialects. Even though this did not change the meanings and was tolerated earlier but with more and more diversity of nations among Muslims the problem was showing its teeth and it was now feared that in some time people will start to have startling differences in Qur’anic rendering which could potentially cause great trouble in later times.
Example of such differences can be the fact that Banu Qays read the letter ك as ش. This was referred to us “Kashkasha Qays.” Or Banu Tamim would render the word أن as عن. This was called, “’An’ana Tamim.” This was the state of affairs among Arabs; one can imagine how things could go out of control with non-Arabs coming in. The above and more on it can be found in Shaykh Tahir bin Salih al-Jaza’iri’s al-Tibyan fi Mabahith al-Quran p.52
The issue was that if someone were to produce his own manuscript considering such “anomalous” writing conventions, with the passage of time it was sure to cause a lot of fuss.
2) In certain cases slight variation was sanctioned by the Prophet –may Allah bless him- himself and there was to be no issue with it but some people make grave charges against each other because of it. e.g. in Surah 1 verse 4 one may read the word as “Maalik” with a long vowel (Kitabul Masahif, 239 Narrated by Anas) or simply “Malik” with a short vowel (Durr Manthur 1/6 cf. Ibn al-Anbari Narrated by Anas). They are more examples of this kind.
Now naturally people who had mastered any of the allowed renderings or pronounced words differently from the convention of the Quraysh, which is followed to this day, made their private manuscripts like that and taught their students likewise. This meant that without taking due steps things were to get out of control and could give way to serious issues in the times to follow.
Agreement to make one standard Mushaf:
‘Uthman –may Allah be pleased with him- raised the issue with fellow companions and asked for their intake. Once asked about his own opinion he, as reported by ‘Ali –may Allah be pleased with him- said:
“I see that we bring people to a single Mushaf so that there is neither division nor discord”. And we said, “An excellent proposal.” (Ibn Abi Dawud’s Kitab al-Masahif, Hadith 62. Classified as Sahih by Ibn Hajr in Fath al-Bari)
An independent manuscript was arranged:
As reported by Kathir bin Aflah, a twelve member committee was formed to oversee the task. (Kitab al-Masahif, Hadith 72. Classified as Sahih by Ibn Kathir)
This committee did not simply considered the Official Qur’anic Manuscripts prepared under Abu Bakr –Allah be pleased with him- infact they prepared an independent Manuscript repeating the same practice as carried out during the time of Abu Bakr –may Allah be pleased with him.
Mus’ab bin Sa’d reported: ‘Uthman delievered a sermon to the people and said: Your prophet did (just) fifteen years ago and you differ regarding Qur’an. Bring to me anything you have from the Qur’an that he heard from the Messenger of Allah –may Allah bless him. Then it started that a man would come to him with writing on pieces of board and shoulder-blades and parchments. So whoever came to him with something, he asked:
“Did you hear this from the Messenger of Allah –may Allah bless him?” Then he asked, “Who is best in language among the people?” They said, “Sa’id bin al-‘As.” Then he asked, “Who is the best in writing among the people?” They said, “Zaid bin Thabit.” He said. “Then let Zaid write and Sa’id dictate.” And then he got the Musahif written and sent to various cities. And I did not see anyone objecting to it. (Kitabul Masahif, Hadith 67. Classified as Sahih by Dr. Muhibuddin Wa’iz)
Comparison with what was accomplished during the time of Abu Bakr:
So exactly same method was employed and the whole text collected again from the scattered pieces prepared in the presence of the Qur’an. This was very much like what was done during the time of Abu Bakr –may Allah be pleased with him.
The reason why ‘Uthman –may Allah be pleased with him- took all this trouble again is same as explained with reference to Orientalist Bergstrasser in the discussion about Abu Bakr’s contribution.
Zaid bin Thabit -may Allah be pleased with him- who was in charge of both the endeavors testified that after making independent Mushaf during the time of ‘Uthman he compared it with what was prepared during Abu Bakr’s time and found them exactly similar. He said:
“I compared the Mushaf with those manuscripts; they did not differ in anything.” (Mushkil al-Athar, Hadith 2645)
So this also serves as a testimony for the extreme care taken and robustness of the methodology that a practice was repeated twice and there was no discrepancy at all. And all praise be to Allah!
As to the unique accomplishments of ‘Uthman –may Allah be pleased with him- consider the following points.
1. During the time of Abu Bakr Surahs were not arranged. Surah arrangement was done during ‘Uthman’s time- may Allah be pleased with them both. See Mustadrak al-Hakim Hadith 2901.
This is also supported by the fact that in Sahih Bukhari the narration from Zaid bin Thabit about the project under Abu Bakr uses the plural word “Suhuf” (Manuscripts) while in his own report about the work done under ‘Uthman, he uses the singular “Mushaf” (Manuscript) showing that during Abu Bakr’s time a manuscript was prepared for each Surah and they were not arranged as such.
2. Special attention was paid to the fact that Qur’an is written in such a way that all the authentic ways of recitation are taken care of. Dialectical marks were not put, nor were the dots this allowed multiple warranted ways recitation.
3. During the time of Abu Bakr, only one official copy was prepared. ‘Uthman made multiple copies and sent them to all provincial headquarters –may Allah be pleased with them both. According to Abu Hatim al-Sajistani in total seven manuscripts were prepared and sent one each to Makkah, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Basra and Kufa and one was kept at Medina. See Kitabul Masahif, Narration 94.
How the problems were solved:
We mentioned two problems that highlighted the expediency for what was achieved during ‘Uthman’s time –may Allah be pleased with him.
Solution to Problem 1:
Problem 1 was solved by ensuring that spelling convention of only the Quraysh is followed. As clear from the Hadith from Sahih Bukhari quoted above which clearly says;
‘Uthman said to the group of the three Qurashis, “When you and Zayd ibn Thabit disagree about any of the Qur’an, write it in the dialect of Quraysh. It was revealed in their language.”
Also note that the person appointed to dictate i.e. Sa’id bin al’As was from the Quraysh.
This point needs a clarification. The possible difference was certainly about the spelling convention and not the wording itself. Following narration proves it;
“One day they differed if it was التابوت or التابوه. Men from Quraysh said it was التابوت while Zaid said it was التابوه. This difference was brought to ‘Uthman. He said write التابوت for Qur’an was revealed in the language of the Quraysh.” (Kanzul Ummal, Hadith 4775 cf. Ibn Sa’d, Tirmidhi etc.)
This shows it was only about spelling convention and not the wording itself.
Solution to Problem 2:
Problem 2 was solved because of the writing convention as it incorporated all the valid readings. Besides with each manuscript was sent a person with sound and profound knowledge of the Sunnah ways of recitation. See History of the Qur’anic Text p.95 cf. Abdul Fattah al-Qadi’s al-Qiraat fi Nazar al-Mustashriqin
Uthman did not destroy anything:
Many people have a misconception that ‘Uthman –may Allah be pleased with him- destroyed something that was in vogue during his time and before him.
This is false for multiple reasons.
1. As we saw, Zaid bin Thabit made comparison between the manuscript made under ‘Uthman and the the ones made under Abu Bakr –may Allah be pleased with them all- and said:
“I compared the Mushaf with those manuscripts; they did not differ in anything.” (Mushkil al-Athar, Hadith 2645)
And no one has ever said that Abu Bakr destroyed anything from or about the Qur’an. And with above narration under consideration, the only reasonable conclusion is that neither did ‘Uthman –may Allah be pleased with them both.
2. Following two narrations need special attention.
‘Ali said, “Do not speak of ‘Uthman anything but good because by Allah, whatever he did concerning the Masahif he did in our presence. He asked us, ‘What do you say regarding these recitations for it has reached me that some say to the others, ‘our recitation is better than yours’ even though this takes one towards disbelief?’ We said to him, ‘what is your opinion?’ He said, ‘I see that we should make all people recognize one Mushaf then there will be no difference or discord.’ We said, ‘An excellent proposal.’” (Kitabul Masahif, Hadith 62. Classified as Sahih by Dr. Wa’iz)
Narrated Anas: People differed about the Qur’an during the time of ‘Uthman to the extent that even teachers and children had differences. This reached ‘Uthman. He said, “You deny (valid recitations) in my presence and make mistakes in that. Those away from me must be more violent in denying and making mistakes. O companions of Muhammad! Come together and write for the people a manuscript to be followed.” (al-Ittiqan 1/69)
So evidently ‘Uthman –may Allah be pleased with him- was only looking to preserve all the valid recitations and do away with mistakes being made in them (recall problems 1 & 2). If he was to destroy anything it was only something that could potentially give way to differences and deny the warranted slight variations.
(in-sha-Allah! A detailed paper explaining the idea of slight variations to follow soon)
Burning of the Manuscripts:
With above details in mind we can now easily fathom the reason as to why ‘Uthman –may Allah be pleased with him- burnt some manuscripts.
They were certainly personal manuscripts that did not incorporate within their spelling convention all of warranted multiple readings. This could lead later generations studying Qur’an from those manuscripts to maintain that only what their manuscripts read was true and they might have resorted to same denial which ‘Uthman feared.
In personal manuscripts there might have been instances where a person followed his tribal spelling convention. It was feared that if studied by someone not cognizant of the details and basis of the writing that way, it could again lead to serious problems.
So considering the above ‘Uthman –may Allah be pleased with him- decided to destroy all sources of the potential threat in the form of personal manuscripts. And in this endeavor he had the support of the companions of the Prophet.
Mus’ab bin Sa’d reported: “I saw a large number of people present when ‘Uthman burnt the manuscripts. They liked it.” He (further) said, “And not one of them opposed it.” (Kitabul Masahif, Hadith 33. Classified as Sahih by Ibn Kathir and Dr. Wa’iz)
The companions were on board:
The whole idea was not Uthman’s brainchild, nor was it imposed in a dictatorial fashion. It was a collective affair and the task was as such collectively achieved and people were taken on board.
About the Mushaf prepared we learn that, “then it was read to the Companions in the presence of ‘Uthman.” (Ibn Kathir’s Fadhail al-Qur’an 1/89)
With regards to Uthman’s endeavors to make all people follow one manuscript ‘Ali –may Allah be pleased with him- said: “By Allah, if I were in charge of the affairs, I would have done what has been done.” (Kitabul Masahif, Hadith 62. Classified as Sahih by Dr. Wa’iz)
The only person to have reservations about the endeavors of ‘Uthman was Abdullah bin Mas’ud –may Allah be pleased with them him. In-sha-Allah in the next post we discuss the issue of his reaction; reasons for it, implications and misconceptions.
Indeed Allah knows the best!