The Qur’an consists of 114 chapters (sūrahs) of varying length, revealed in Arabic language. The Qur’an, comprising 6236 verses (ayah) is unrivalled in its recording and preservation. The Prophet (peace be upon him) not only orally passed the Qur’an to the people of Arabia, he also made elaborate arrangements to ensure that its contents are preserved. The companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) participated in this preservation process in large numbers, through writing and memorizing the text and safely transferring to the next generation. The Qur’an is not like the writings of the New Testament, where as per Christian traditions, God inspired a scribe to write down the scripture; the idea and words were those of the scribe while God only supervised the scribe. In other cases, the Christians would like to say that the scribe was inspired by God and revealed a certain idea to him. The scribe then wrote it down in his own words.
In case of the Qur’an, the words and ideas are both Divine. The words and verses of the Qur’an were preserved, through the oral as well as the written traditions, in the lifetime of Prophet (peace be upon him), as also evident from the internal evidence from Qur’an, which repeatedly mentions itself as ‘al- kitaab’ (The Book) from the very beginning: “This (Qur’an) is the Book; in it is guidance sure without doubt to those who fear Allah.”(Qur’an;2:2);“Recite from this Book (Qur’an) which has been revealed to you”(Qur’an;29:45); “And recite (and teach) what has been revealed to thee of the Book of thy Lord: none can change His Words and none wilt thou find as a refuge other than Him.”(Qur’an;18:27). Allah says: “By no means (should it be so)! For it (Qur’an) is indeed a Message of instruction: Therefore let who will keep it in remembrance. It is written in scrolls, which are honored, exalted, purified, and which remain in the hands of scribes, who are noble and virtuous.”(Qur’an;80:11-16).
Abdullah Yousaf Ali explains that: “At the time when this Sura Abasa (Chapter Number: 80) was revealed, at Makka; there were perhaps only about 42 or 45 Suras (Chapter) in the hands of the Muslims. But it was a sufficient body of Revelation of high spiritual value, to which the description given here could be applied. It was held in the highest honor; its place in the hearts of Muslims was more exalted than that of anything else; as Allah’s Word, it was pure and sacred; and those who transcribed it were men who were honorable, just and pious. The legend that the early Suras were not carefully written down and preserved in books is a pure conjecture.
The efforts made later in the time of the first and the third Caliph were merely to preserve the purity and safeguard the arrangement of the text at a time when the expansion of Islam among non-Arabic-speaking people made such precautions necessary”. The details of the process of compilation of the Holy Qur’an is found in the books of history and exegesis, a glimpse here provide the insight to the process of its preservation and dissemination. Initially (while at Mecca) Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to read out the revealed passages to the small group of his followers who besides committing the revelation to their memory also used to write it down on available writing material. Subsequently, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) himself unlettered, constituted a committee of more than forty of his literate companions, who were assigned the task of writing the Holy Book.
On receiving a verse or verses from Allah through revelation, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) used to call one of the members of the committee and dictated it. At this time, the Holy Prophet also used to instruct the scribe as to where the newly revealed verse or verses were to be placed in the Holy Qur’an. The Holy Prophet thus not only used to dictate scattered verses but also give a divine order of arrangement of each verse. Zaid bin Thabit (one of scribes) reports that after having dictated the verse, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would ask the scribe to read it out. Errors if any were rectified and the final draft was approved. Although the Qur’an had been compiled in the lifetime of the Prophet (died 632 C.E), yet need of preparation of official copy was felt during the reign of Abu Bakar, the 1stCaliph (632-634 C.E), for preservation of standard text to meet the requirements of ever expanding global Muslim community.
Abu Bakar constituted a committee under the chairmanship of Zaid bin Thabit. All the companions assisted him and the volume thus compiled was attested by hundreds of companions. During the period of 3rd Caliph (644-656 C.E) Uthman, a large number of non-Arabs also embraced Islam, who were found to be reciting Qur’an in varied dialects. Uthman in consultation with all the companions, got the copies of Qur’an written in accordance with the dialects and calligraphic style of the Quraysh, and these copies were placed in the major cities of the Muslim Caliphate, the expert reciters (Qari) to elucidate and teach the correct recitation were also made available. These copies served as the master copies for all the Muslims and numerous copies were prepared and circulated. Two of the master copies prepared by Uthman are still available in museums at Tashkent, and Istanbul, which are identical to any copy of Qur’an found in Indonesia, China, America, Australia, Morocco, France, Nigeria or any other part of the world. Thus the contribution of Uthman is not that he compiled the Qur’an for the first time, as is generally misunderstood, he in fact united the Muslims on one standard recitation of the Qur’an. (Details are narrated in Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.709, Narrated by Anas and Hadith, 6.510 Narrated by Anas bin Malik).
The Qur’an is the central to the life of Muslims, which is recited to the new born and to the one breathing his last. The devout Muslims routinely recite part of Qur’an daily, some completing one recitation in a month. Those who can not read are content to listen quietly. Every year in the month of fasting (Ramadan), recitation of complete Qur’an is completed by the prayer leaders (Hafiz) in (taraweeh) prayers. Every Muslim has to memorize some parts or chapters of Qur’an, as it is obligatory for every Muslim to recite some verses of Qur’an, in the original Arabic (not translation), in the five daily prayers at least seventeen times (in obligatory, faradh). Besides availability of written script, Muslims feel greatly honored all over the world to memorize the Qur’an word by word as a whole; they are called-Hafiz (Protector). At any one time there are Protectors (Hufaz) among all age groups in every village, town, city and country. Hence there are millions of Protectors (Hufaz) the world over, who are continuously being replaced by new one’s as the elders die in natural process.
This process of preservation of Qur’an in the memory and hearts of Muslims is in line with Allah’s saying: “And We have indeed made the Qur’an easy to understand and remember: then is there any that will receive admonition?”(Qur’an;54:17); “Surely We have revealed this reminder (Qur’an); and We will surely preserve it Our self”.(Qur’an;15:9). This is how Qur’an is transferred from ‘generation to generation’ through the process of Historical Continuity (Twater) in its original form without any distortion. Hence amazingly this scripture has remained unchanged over the past fourteen hundred years.