Transmission of the Qur’anic Revelation

An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an
Ahmad Von Denffer

CHAPTER 2: Transmission of the Qur’anic Revelation

The revelation contained in the Qur’an has been transmitted to us by numerous persons in two ways: orally and in written form.


Memorisation by the Prophet

Oral transmission of the revelation was based on hifz or memorisation and the Prophet Muhammad himself was the first to commit a revelation to memory after the Angel Gabriel had brought it to him:

‘Move not thy tongue concerning the (Qur’an) to make haste therewith. It is for Us to collect it and promulgate it; but when We have promulgated it, follow thou its recital’ (75: 16-19).

‘… an apostle from God, rehearsing scriptures, kept pure and holy …’ (98: 2).

Memorisation by the Companions

The Prophet then declared the revelation and instructed his Companions to memorise it. The case of Ibn Mas’ud, who was the first man to publicly recite the Qur’an in Makka, shows that even in the very early phase of the Islamic umma recital of the revelation from memory was practised by the Companions:

‘… the first man to speak the Qur’an loudly in Makka after the apostle was ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud. The Prophet’s Companions came together and mentioned that the Quraish had never heard the Qur’an distinctly read to them … When (Ibn Mas’ud) arrived at the maqAm, he read “In the name of God the Compassionate the Merciful”, raising his voice as he did so. “The Com- passionate who taught the Qur’an …” (55:1) … They got up and began to hit him in the face; but he continued to read so far as God willed that he should read … [Guillaume, E.: The Life of Muhammad (abbr. as Ibn Hisham), London, 55, pp. 141-2; Ibn Hisham: Sira al-nabi, Cairo, n.d., 1, p.206.]

It is also reported that Abu Bakr used to recite the Qur’an publicly in front of his house in Makka. [Sira Ibn Hisham, The Life of Muhammad]

The Prophet encourages Memorisation

There are numerous ahadith, giving account of various efforts made and measures taken by the Prophet to ensure that the revelation was preserved in the memory of his Com- panions. The following is perhaps the most clear:

‘Narrated ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan: The Prophet said: “The most superior among you (Muslims) are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it”.’ [Bukhari, VI, No. 546.]

It is also well known that the recital of the Qur’an during the daily prayers is required and hence many Companions heard repeatedly passages from the revelation, memorised them and used them in prayer.

The Prophet also listened to the recitation of the Qur’an by the Companions.

Narrated ‘Abdullah (b. Mas’ud): ‘Allah’s Apostle said to me: “Recite (of the Qur’an) for me”. I said: “Shall I recite it to you although it had been revealed to you?!” He said: “I like to hear (the Qur’an) from others”. So I recited Surat-an-Nisa’ till I reached: “How (will it be) then when We bring from each nation a witness and We bring you (O Muhammad) as a witness against these people?” ‘ (4: 41).

‘Then he said: “Stop!” Behold, his eyes were shedding tears then.’ [Bukhari, VI, No. 106.]

The Prophet sent Teachers

The Prophet sent teachers to communities in other places so that they might receive instruction in Islam and the Qur’an.

The case of Mus’ab bin ‘Umair illustrates that this was so even before the hijra:

‘When these men (of the first pledge of ‘Aqaba) left (for Madina) the apostle sent with them Mus.’ab bin ‘Umair … and instructed him to read the Qur’an to them and to teach them Islam and to give them instruction about religion. In Madina Musiab was called “the reader”.’ [Ibn Hisham, p. 199.]

Another well-known case concerns Mu’adh bin Jabal who was sent to Yemen to instruct the people there.

Qur’an Readers among the Companions

Suyuti [Itqan 1, p. 124.] mentions more than twenty well-known persons who memorised the revelation, among them were Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, Ibn Mas’ud, Abu Huraira, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin al-‘As, ‘A’isha, Hafsa, and Umm Salama.

From among these, the Prophet himself recommended especially the following:

‘Narrated Masruq: ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr mentioned ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud and said: I shall ever love that man for I heard the Prophet saying: Take (learn) the Qur’an from four: ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud, Salim, Muiadh and Ubay bin Ka’b’. [Bukhari, VI, No. 521.]

Another hadith informs us about those Companions who had memorised the Qur’an in its entirety and gone over it with the Prophet before his death:

‘Narrated Qatada: I asked Anas bin Malik: Who collec- ted the Qur’an at the time of the Prophet? He replied, Four, all of whom were from the Ansar: Ubay bin Ka’b, Mu’adh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit and Aba Zaid.’ [Bukhari, VI, No. 525.]

The fact that some of the earliest historical reports make special mention in the accounts of the battles that were fought, of Muslims killed who knew (something of) the Qur’an by heart, gives a clear indication that memorisation of the revelation was considered important and widely practised from the earliest times. [See below, on collection of the Qur’an in Abu Bakr’s time.]

The Qur’an Memorised in the Prophet’s Lifetime

It is therefore certain that the Qur’an had been memorised by the Companions of the Prophet during his lifetime. This tradition continued among the Companions after the Prophet’s death and, later, among the tabi’un and all generations of Muslims that have followed, until today.


The Written Text at the Time of the Prophet Muhammad

What is meant by Jam’ al-Qur’an?

The general meaning of jam’ al-qur’an is to ‘bring together the Qur’an’. This was done and has to be understood in two ways:

  • Bringing together the Qur’an orally, or in one’s mind (hifz).
  • Bringing together the Qur’an in written form, or on sheets, or in a book.

Jam’ al-qura’n therefore, in the classical literature, has various meanings:

  • To learn the Qur’an by heart.
  • To write down every revelation.
  • To bring together those materials upon which the Qur’an has been written.
  • To bring together the reports of people who have memorised the Qur’an.
  • To bring together all such sources, both oral and written.

How was the Qur’an Collected?

In Suyuti’s Itqan it is said that the Qur’an had been written down in its entirety in the time of the Prophet but had not been brought together in one single place, and that therefore these written records or documents had not been arranged in order.’ [Itqan, I, p. 41]

However, this statement does not preclude that the ordering of the Qur’an and the arrangement of the suras, was fixed by the Prophet himself and safeguarded through oral transmission.

Stages of Collection

As far as the written text is concerned, one may distinguish three stages:

  • In the time of the Prophet:
    • in the hearts of men (memorisation).
    • on writing materials
  • In the time of Abu Bakr.
  • In the time of ‘Uthman.

Why was no Book left by the Prophet?

The Prophet Muhammad did not present to his Companions the revelation collected and arranged in a single written volume. There are a number of good reasons for this:

  • Because the revelation did not come down in one piece, but at intervals and was received continuously until the end of the Prophet’s life.
  • Because some verses were abrogated in the course of revelation, and therefore flexibility needed to be maintained.
  • The ayat and suras were not always revealed in their final order, but were arranged later.
  • The Prophet lived only nine days after the last revelation and was severely ill.
  • There was no dispute or friction about the Qur’an during the time of the Prophet, as developed afterwards when he, as the final authority, was no longer available.
  • Writing down the Revelation
  • While writing was not widespread among the people in Arabia at the time of the Prophet there were persons of whom it is reported that they did write. It is said for example of Waraqa, Khadija’s cousin, that he had been converted to Christianity in the pre-Islamic period ‘and used to write Arabic and write of the Gospel in Arabic as much as Allah wished him to write’. [Bukhari. VI. No. 478.]
  • The Prophet himself did much to encourage the Muslims to learn to write. It is related that some of the Quraish, who were taken prisoners at the battle of Badr, regained their freedom after they had taught some of the Muslims the art of writing.’ [Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d, II(2), p. 19] [Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d, II(2), p. 19] [Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d, II(2), p. 19]

Did the Prophet himself write?

Although it is not clear whether the Prophet Muhammad knew how to write, there is unanimous agreement among scholars that Muhammad himself did not write down the revelation. The Qur’an clearly states:

‘And thou (O Muhammad) wast not a reader of any scripture before it, nor didst thou write it with thy right hand, for then might those have doubted who follow falsehood’ (29:48).

The Qur’an also refers to Muhammad on several occasions as the ‘unlettered prophet’ which some scholars have interpreted in the sense that he did not read or write:

‘Those who follow the apostle, the unlettered prophet …’ (8: 157).

His community too has been described as ‘unlettered’:

‘It is he who has sent amongst the unlettered an apostle from among themselves …’ (62:2).

The Qur’an written during the Prophet’s Lifetime

There is no doubt that the Qur’an was not only transmitted orally by many Muslims who had learned parts or the whole of it, but that it was also written down during the lifetime of the Prophet.

The well-known report about ‘Umar’s conversion shows that large passages of the revelation had already been written down even at a very early time, in Makka, long before the hijra, when the Prophet was still in the house of Arqam. ‘Umar had set out to kill the Prophet Muhammad, when somebody informed him that Islam had already spread into his own family and pointed out to him that his brother-in-law, his nephew and his sister had all become Muslims. ‘Umar went to the house of his sister and found her together with her husband and another Muslim. A dispute arose and ‘Umar violently attacked both his brother-in-law and his own sister. ‘When he did that they said to him “Yes, we are Muslims and we believe in God and His apostle and you can do what you like”. When ‘Umar saw the blood on his sister, he was sorry for what he had done and turned back and said to his sister, ‘Give me this sheet which I heard you reading just now so that I may see just what it is which Muhammad has brought’, for ‘Umar could write. When he said that, his sister replied that she was afraid to trust him with it. ‘Do not be afraid’, he said and he swore by his gods that he would return it when he had read it. When he said that, she had hopes that he would become a Muslim and said to him, ‘My brother, you are unclean in your polytheism and only the clean may touch it’. So ‘Umar rose and washed himself and she gave him the page in which was Taha and when he had read the beginning he said ‘How fine and noble is this speech …” [Ibn Hisham, pp. 156-7.]

The Qur’an Dictated by the Prophet

The Qur’an was not only written down by those Companions who did so on their own initiative. Indeed, the Prophet, when a revelation came, called for the scribe and dictated to him. The Prophet while in Madina had several such scribes, [M. M. A’zami, in his book Kuttab al-Nabi (Beirut, 1393/1974) mentions 48 persons who used to write for the Prophet.] among whom Zaid bin Thabit was very prominent.

Narrated al-Bara’: There was revealed ‘Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah’ (4: 95). The Prophet said: ‘Call Zaid for me and let him bring the board, the ink pot and the scapula bone (or the scapula bone and the ink pot).’ Then he said: ‘Write: Not equal are those believers … [Bukhari, VI, No. 512; also VI, No. 116-18.]

It is also reported that material upon which the revelation had been written down was kept in the house of the Prophet. [Suyuti, Itqan, I, p. 58.]

Written during the Prophet’s Lifetime

Another report informs us that when people came to Madina to learn about Islam, they were provided with ‘copies of the chapters of the Qur’an, to read and learn them by heart’. [Hamidullah, M.: Sahifa Hammam ibn Munabbih, Paris, 1979, p. 64.]

Further evidence for the existence of the Qur’an as a written document during the lifetime of the Prophet comes from the following account:

‘Abd Allah b. Abu Bakr b. Hazm reported: The book written by the apostle of Allah for ‘Amr b. Hazm con- tained also this that no man should touch the Qur’an without ablution.’ [Muwatta’, No. 462.]

The book, which Allah’s messenger wrote for ‘Amr b. Hazm that no one should touch the Qur’an except the purified one:

Malik said: And no one should carry the mushaf by its strap, nor on a pillow, unless he is clean. And even if this be allowed to carry it in its cover, it is not disliked, if there is not in the two hands which carry it, something polluting the mushaf, but it is disliked for the one who carries it, and he is not clean, in honour to the Qur’an and respect to it. Malik said: The best I heard about this is the verse ‘None shall touch it but those who are clean’ (56: 79).’ [Muwatta’, Arabic, p. 204.]

The commentary to the muwatta’ explains that the book referred to as written by the Prophet (which means of course written upon his instruction) was sent with some Muslims for instruction in Islam of the people of Yemen. [Muwatta’, Arabic, p. 204.]

In fact the Qur’anic verse 56: 79, read in context, clearly explains that the Qur’an is available to those who receive instruction by revelation, in the form of a book or a piece of writing:

‘… this is indeed a Qur’an most honourable, in a book (kitab) well guarded, which none shall touch but those who are clean: a revelation from the Lord of the worlds’ (56: 77-80).

The same fact, i.e. that the Qur’an did exist as a written document in the lifetime of the Prophet is proved by the following ahadith:

From Ibn ‘Umar: … ‘The messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: “Do not take the Qur’an on a journey with you, for I am afraid lest it should fall into the hands of the enemy”. [Muslim, III, No. 4609, also 4607, 4608; Bukhari, IV, No. 233.]

The correctness of the assumption that the reference is to a written document is supported by one of the transmitters: Ayyub (i. e. one of the narrators in the chain of transmission of this report) said: The enemy may seize it and may quarrel with you over it. [Muslim, III, No. 4609.]

Furthermore, the chapter-heading used by Bukhan for the section, (which usually contains additional information,) explains:

‘Ibn ‘Umar said: No doubt the Prophet and his Com- panions travelled in the land of the enemy and they knew the Qur’an then.’ [i.e. they knew that the Quran was carried – as a scripture – by the Muslims. Bukhan, IV, p. 146, Ch. 129.]

Collection of Revelation during the Prophet’s Lifetime

During his last pilgrimage, at the sermon which he gave to the large gathering of Muslims, the Prophet said: ‘I have left with you something which if you will hold fast to it you will never fall into error- a plain indication, the book of God and the practice of his prophet. [Ibn Hisham, p. 651.]

This advice from the Prophet to the Muslims implies that the revelation was available as kitab (writing) before his death, for otherwise he would have referred to it in some other term.

From other reports also, we can conclude that the Prophet himself took care of the actual arrangement of the revelation, when it was written down.

Zaid is reported to have said:

‘We used to compile the Qur’an from small scraps in the presence of the Apostle.’ [Itqan, I, p. 99; Salih, p.69.]

‘Uthman said, that in later days, the Prophet ‘used to, when something was revealed to him, call someone from among those who used to write for him and said: Place these ayat in the sura, in which this and this is mentioned, and when (only) one aya was revealed to him, he said: Place this aya in the sura in which this and this is mentioned’. [Jeffery, A.: Materials for the history of the text of the qura’n, (incl. Kitab al-masahif by Ibn Abi Dawud (abbr. as Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif) Leiden, 1937, p. 31.]

This indicates that not only was the revelation written down during the lifetime of the Prophet, but that he himself gave instructions for the arrangement of the material. According to some other reports, it is also clear, that this proper arrangement and order of the ayat was well known to the Companions of the Prophet, and they were not prepared to tamper with it.

‘Narrated Ibn Az-Zubair: I said to ‘Uthman “This verse which is in Sura al-Baqara: ‘those of you who die and leave wives behind … without turning them out’ has been abrogated by another verse. Why then do you write it in the Qur’an?” ‘Uthman said: Leave it (where it is) O son of my brother, for I will not shift anything of it (i . e. the Qur’an) from its original position.’ [Bukhari, VI. No. 60.]

Similarly quite a number of reports mention the various Suras by their names or beginnings. Two examples may suffice to make this point:

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet used to recite the following in the Fajr prayer of Friday: Alif Lam Mim Tanzil (Sajda) (32) and Hal-ata ‘ala-l-Insani (al-dahr) (76). [Bukhari, II, No. 16.]

Abu Huraira said: God’s messenger recited in both rak’as of the dawn prayer: “Say O unbelievers (99) and Say, He is God, one God (112).’ [Robson, J. (transl.): Mishkat al Masabih, Lahore, 1963, I, pp. 172-3 – Tabrizi: Mishkatal-masabih, Beirut, 1961, I, No. 842.]

The order and arrangement was of course well known to the Muslims due to the daily recitation of the Qur’an in the prayers at the mosque of the Prophet and at other places. Finally there are three ahadith in Sahih Bukhari, informing us that the Angel Gabriel used to recite the Qur’an with the Prophet once a year, but he recited it twice with him in the year he died. The Prophet used to stay in i’tikaf for ten days every year (in the month of Ramad. an), but in the year of his death, he stayed in i’tikaf for twenty days. [Bukhari, VI, No. 520; see also Nos. 518, 519.]

We can therefore distinguish the following measures which ensured the collection of the revelation in writing during the lifetime of the Prophet:

  • Revelation used to be written down even in the very early days of the Prophet’s call.
  • In Madina, the Prophet had several persons who wrote down revelation when it was revealed.
  • The Prophet himself instructed his scribes as to where the different revealed verses should be placed, and thus determined the order and arrangement.
  • This order and arrangement was well known to the Muslims and strictly observed by them.
  • The Angel Gabriel went through all the revelation with Muhammad each year in Ramadan, and went through it twice in the year the Prophet died.
  • There are numerous reports about the existence of the written Qur’an – in the form of a book or piece of writing (kitab) during the lifetime of the Prophet.

What did the Prophet leave behind?

The way the material of revelation was left by the Prophet at his death was the most suitable for the Companions in that:

  • All parts of the revelation were available both in written form and memorised by the Companions.
  • All pieces were available on loose writing material, making it easy to arrange them in the proper order.
  • The order already fixed of the ayat within the suras, in the written form, as well as in the memory of the Companions, and of the suras in the memory of the Companions.

What arrangement could have been better than to have everything to hand in written form, as well as memorised by the Muslims, and to have the order and arrangement already determined, partially in the written form and completely in the memories of the people?

It is for these reasons that a later scholar, al-Harith al-Muhasibi in his book kitab fahm al-Sunan, summarised the first phase of the written collection of the Qur’anic material in the following words:

‘Writing of the Qur’an was no novelty, for the Prophet used to order that it be written down, but it was in separate pieces, on scraps of leather, shoulder blades and palm risp, and when (Abu Bakr) al-Siddiq ordered that it be copied from the (various) places to a common place, which was in the shape of sheets, these (materials) were found in the house of the Prophet in which the Qur’an was spread out, and he gathered it all together and tied it with a string so that nothing of it was lost. [Suyuti, Itqan, I, p. 58.]

It is obvious that the history of the Qur’anic text (Textgeschichte) cannot be compared with that of other Holy Scriptures. While the books of the Old and New Testaments, for example, were written, edited and compiled over long periods, sometimes centuries, the text of the Qur’an, once revelation had ceased, has remained the same to this day.

Suhuf and Mushaf

Both words are derived from the same root Sahafa ‘to write’. The word suhuf also occurs in the Qur’an (87:19) meaning scripture or written sheets.

Suhuf (sg. sahifa) means loose pieces of writing material, such as paper, skin, papyrus, etc.

Mushaf (pl. masahif) means the collected suhuf, brought together into a fixed order, such as between two covers, into a volume.

In the history of the written text of the Qur’an, suhuf stands for the sheets on which the Qur’an was collected in the time of Abu Bakr. In these suhuf the order of the ayat within each sura was fixed, but the sheets with the suras on them were still in a loose arrangement, i.e. not bound into a volume.

Mushaf in the present context means the sheets on which the Qur’an was collected in the time of ‘Uthman. Here both the order of the ayat within each sura as well as the order of the sheets were fixed.

Today we also call any copy of the Qur’an, which has both order of ayat and suras fixed, a mushaf.

How the suhuf were made

Tradition informs us that at the Battle of Yamama (11/633), in the time of Abu Bakr, a number of Muslims, who had memorised the Qur’an were killed. Hence it was feared that unless a written copy of the Qur’an were prepared, a large part of the revelation might be lost.

The following is the account in the Sahih Bukhari

Narrated Zaid bin Thabit Al-Ansari, one of the scribes of the Revelation: Abu Bakr sent for me after the casualties among the warriors (of the battle) of Yamama (where a great number of Qurra were killed). ‘Umar was present with Abu Bakr who said: “Umar has come to me and said, the People have suffered heavy casualties on the day of (the battle of) Yamama, and I am afraid that there will be some casualties among the Qurra (those who know the Qur’an by heart) at other places, whereby a large part of the Qur’an may be lost, unless you collect it. And I am of the opinion that you should collect the Qur’an.’ Abu Bakr added, ‘I said to ‘Umar, “How can I do something which Allah’s Apostle has not done?” ‘Umar said (to me) “By Allah, it is (really) a good thing”. So ‘Umar kept on pressing trying to persuade me to accept his proposal, till Allah opened my bosom for it and I had the same opinion as ‘Umar’. (Zaid bin Thabit added:) ‘Umar was sitting with him (Abu Bakr) and was not speaking. Abu Bakr said (to me), ‘You are a wise young man and we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of forgetfulness); and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah’s Apostle. Therefore, look for the Qur’an and collect it (in one manuscript)’. By Allah, if he (Abu Bakr) had ordered me to shift one of the mountains (from its place) it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Qur’an. I said to both of them, ‘How dare you do a thing which the Prophet has not done?’ Abu Bakr said, ‘By Allah, it is (really) a good thing. So I kept on arguing with him about it till Allah opened my bosom for that which He had opened the bosoms of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. So I started locating the Quranic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leafstalks of date palms and from the memories of men (who knew it by heart). I found with Khuzaima two verses of Suras at-Tauba which I had not found with anybody else (and they were):

‘Verily there has come to you an Apostle (Muhammad) from among yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He (Muhammad) is ardently anxious over you (to be rightly guided)’ (9:128).

The manuscript on which the Qur’an was collected, re- mained with Abu Bakr till Allah took him unto Him, and then with ‘Umar till Allah took him unto Him, and finally it remained with Hafsa, ‘Umar’s daughter. [Bukhari, VI, No. 201.]

Here we can distinguish the following steps, which led to the preparation of the suhuf:

  • Zaid was instructed by Abu Bakr to collect the Qur’an.
  • Zaid collected it from various written materials and the memories of people.
  • The sheets thus prepared were kept with Abu Bakr, then ‘Umar, then Hafsa.


There are numerous indications in the literature of hadith that several of the Companions of the Prophet had prepared their own written collections of the revelations. [Suyuti. Itqan, I, p 62] The best-known among these are from Ibn Mas’ud, Ubay bin Ka’b and Zaid bin Thabit. [See Dodge, B, The Fihrist of al-Nadim, New York, 1970 (abbr. as fihrist), pp 53-63.]

A list of Companions of whom it is related that they had their own written collections included the following: Ibn Mas’ud, Ubay bin Ka’b, ‘All, Ibn ‘Abbas, Abu Musa, Hafsa, Anas bin Malik, ‘Umar, Zaid bin Thabit, Ibn Al-Zubair, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr, ‘A’isha, Salim, Umm Salama, ‘Ubaid bin ‘Umar. [See Ibn Abi Dawud: Masahif, p 14 Ansari, M.: The qura’nic Foundations and Structure of Muslim Society; Karachi, 1973, drawing upon various sources, says (1, p.76, note 2) that there existed at least 15 written copies of the Qur’an in the Prophet’s lifetime. In addition to the list of 15 names quoted above, he includes Abu Bakr, ‘Uthman, Mu’adh b. Jabal, Abu Darda’, Abu Ayyub Ansari, ‘Ubada b. al-Samit, Tamim Dari. This would add up to 23 written copies of the Qur’an, which existed while the Prophet was alive.]

It is also known that ‘A’isha and Hafsa had their own scripts written after the Prophet had died. [Rahimuddin, M. (transl.): Muwatta) Imam Malik, Lahore, 1980, No. 307, 308; Malik b. Anas: al-muwatta’, Cairo, n.d., p. 105.]

The following is a very brief description of some of the masdhif, which are attributed to the Companions of the Prophet. All the information is based on classical sources. [For details see Ibn Abi Dawud, also fihrist and Itqan]

The Mushaf of Ibn Mas’ud (d. 33/653)

He wrote a mushaf, in which sudras 1, 113 and 114 were not included. Ibn al-Nadim [Fihrist, I, pp. 57-8.] however said he had seen a copy of the Qur’an from Ibn Mas’ud which did not contain al-fatiha (Sura 1). The arrangement of the suras differed from the ‘Uthmanic text. The following is the order attributed to Ibn Mas’ud’s copy: [Fihrist, I, pp. 53-7.]

2, 4, 3, 7, 6, 5, 10, 9, 16, 11, 12, 17, 21, 23, 26, 37, 33, 28, 24, 8, 19, 29, 30, 36, 25, 22, 13, 34, 35, 14, 38, 47, 31, 35, 40, 43, 41, 46, 45, 44, 48, 57, 59, 32, 50, 65, 49, 67, 64, 63, 62, 61, 72, 71, 58, 60, 66, 55, 53, 51, 52, 54, 69, 56, 68, 79, 70, 73, 74, 83, 80, 76, 75, 77, 78, 81, 82, 88, 87, 92, 89, 85, 84, 96, 90, 93, 94, 86, 100, 107, 101, 98, 91, 95, 104, 105, 106, 102, 97, 110, 108, 109, 111, 112.

This list is obviously incomplete. It contains only 106 suras and not 110, as Ibn Nadim wrote.

In Sura al-baqara, which I take as an example, there are a total of 101 variants. Most of them concern spelling, some also choice of words (synonyms), use of particles, etc.


Pronunciation:2:70 Ibn Mas’ud reads al-baqira in place of al-baqara

Spelling: 2:19 He reads kulla ma in place of kullama

Synonyms: 2:68 He reads sal (seek, beseech) in place of ud’u (beseech)

Assuming that all these are reliable reports, the copy of Ibn Mas’ud would then have been prepared for his personal use and written before all 114 suras were revealed.

Nadim, who lived in the tenth century (4th century Hijra) also added: ‘I have seen a number of Qur’anic manuscripts, which the transcribers recorded as manuscripts of Ibn Mas’ud. No two of the Qur’anic copies were in agreement and most of them were on badly effaced parchment … [Fihrist, I, p. 57.]

This note indicates that the question of authentic manuscripts of Ibn Mas’ud needs to be treated with some caution.

The Mushaf of Ubay bin Ka’b (d. 29 H/649)

He wrote a mushaf, in which two ‘additional suras and another ‘additional aya’ were reportedly found. [Itqan, I, p. 65; Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif, pp. 18S1; also Noldeke, T. et al.: Ceschichte des Qorans, Leipzig, 1909-38 (abbr. as GdQ), 11, pp. 33-8.]

The first so called sura entitled al-khal’ (separation), translates as follows: ‘O Allah, we seek your help and ask your forgiveness, and we praise you and we do not disbelieve in you.

We separate from and leave who sins against you.’ The second so-called sura, entitled al-hafd (haste) translates as follows: ‘O Allah, we worship You and to You we pray and prostrate and to You we run and hasten to serve You. We hope for Your mercy and we fear Your punishment. Your punishment will certainly reach the disbelievers.’ Obviously these two pieces constitute so-called ‘qunut’, i.e. supplications which the Prophet sometimes said in the morning prayer or witr prayer after recitation of suras from the Qur’an. They are in fact identical to some parts of qunut reported in the collections of hadith. See: Nawawi, al-adhkar, Cairo, 1955, pp. 57-8.

As to the single additional so-called aya, its translation is as follows: ‘If the son of Adam was given a valley full of riches, he would wish a second one, and if he was given two valleys full of riches, he would surely ask for a third one. Nothing will fill the belly of the son of Adam except dust, and Allah is forgiving to him who is repentant. ‘

Again this text is known to be a hadith from the Prophet. See Bukhari, VIII, No. 444-47. According to Ibn ‘Abbas (No. 445) and ‘Ubay (No. 446) this text was at times thought to be part of the Qur’an. However Ubay himself clarifies that after sura 102: I had been revealed, they (i.e. the sahaba) did not consider the above to be part of the Qur’an. See Bukhari, VIII, No. 446. This explanation of Ubay also makes it very clear that the Companions did not differ at all about what was part of the Qur’an and what was not part of the Qur’an. when the revelation had ceased. and if e.g. this hadith occurred in the mushaf of Ubay, it was a mushaf for his own personal use, in other words, his private notebook, where he did not always distinguish between Qur’anic material and hadith, since it was not meant for general use and he himself knew well what to make of his own notes. The same is true of the other copies of the Qur’an, which some of the Companions had for their own personal use. Also those who transmitted to us the reports about these copies of the Qur’an of the Companions have only narrated to us the various differences which occurred there according to reports that reached them (e.g. the hadith in Bukhari, VIII, No. 446 that Ubay at some early stage held this sentence to be part of the Qur’an). However the actual manuscripts of these copies of the Qur’an of the Companions have not come down to us, since all of them agreed on the correctness and validity of the copies which ‘Uthman had arranged to be written and distributed for general use. Hence their own personal notebooks became obsolete and were destroyed.]

The order of the suras is again different from ‘Uthman as well as Ibn Masud.

The following is the order of suras in the copy attributed to Ubay b. Ka’b: [Fihrist, I, pp. 58-60.]

1, 2, 4, 3, 6, 7, 5, 10, 8, 9, 11, 19, 26, 22, 12, 18, 16, 33, 17, 39, 45, 20, 21, 24, 23, 40, 13, 28, 27, 37, 38, 36, 15, 42, 30, 43, 41, 14, 35, 48, 47, 57, 52, 25, 32, 71, 46, 50, 55, 56, 72, 53, 68, 69, 59, 60, 77, 78, 76, 75, 81, 79, 80, 83, 84, 95, 96, 49, 63, 62, 66, 89, 67, 92, 82, 91, 85, 86, 87, 88, 74?, 98?, 61, 93, 94, 101, 102, 65?, 104, 99, 100, 105, ?, 108, 97, 109, 110, 111, 106, 112, 113, 114.

Again, as in the case of Ibn Mas’ud above this list is incomplete and does not contain all 114 suras of the Qur’an.

‘Ubay has a total of 93 variants in Sura al-baqara. [Again taken as example only to illustrate the point.] Very often, his readings are similar to those of Ibn Mas’ud. For example, he reads al-baqara in 2:70 as al-baqira. So does Ibn Mas’ud.

The Mushaf of Ibn ‘Abbas (d. 68H/687)

Ibn ‘Abbas also wrote a mushaf, which according to the Itqan [I, p. 65; Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif, p. 193.] also included the two additional suras which Ubay had. Again his arrangement of the suras differed from the other copies. In Sura al-baqara, he has a total of 21 variants, some of them identical with Ibn Mas’ud and Ubay as well as other Companions.

Some other Companions

According to the Itqan [I, p. 65; Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif, p. 210.] the mushaf of Abu Musa al-Ash’ari (d. 44H/664) contained the same material as Ubay had.

There is only one variant reported from him in Sura al- baqara, namely that he read Ibraham in place of Ibrahim.

Hafsa (d. 45H/665) had three variants in the same sura, and Anas b. Malik (d. 91H/709) had five.


To further illustrate, here are a number of examples. They have been taken, as far as possible, from well-known suras. While perhaps better examples exist to illustrate the points under discussion, they might not be understood as easily by readers less familiar with the Qur’anic text.

Difference in vowelling:

Ibn ‘Abbas [I, p. 65; Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif, p. 208.] is reported to have read in sura 111:4

hamilatun al-hatab, in place of hammalata-l-hatab

which could not be distinguished on the basis of the early written text, which omitted both haraka and alif.

Difference in spelling:

Ibn ‘Abbas [I, p. 65; Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif, p. 195.] reportedly wrote in sura 1:6 as well as all other places the word al sirat as al-sirat.

Some variants attributed to Ibn Mas’ud: [I, p. 65; Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif, p. 25.]

1. in Sura alfatiha: 1:6

he read arshidna in place of Ihdina

he read man in place of al ladhina

he read ghaira in place of Ghairi

2. in sura albaqara:

2:2 he read tanzilu-l-kitabiin in place of Dhalika-l-kitabu

2:7 he read ghishwatun in place of Ghishawatun

2:9 he read yakhda’dna in place of Yukhadi’una

2:14 he read bi shayatinihim in place of ila shayatinihim etc.

Variants on Sura Al-lkhlas, (112)

Verse Ibn Mas’ud [I, p. 65; Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif, p. 113.] ‘Ubaid [I, p. 65; Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif, p. 180.] ‘Umar [I, p. 65; Ibn Abi Dawud, masahif, p. 222.] normal reading by
112:1 qul
qulomitted qulomitted Ali, Ibn Abbas, Abu Musa, Hafsa
al wahid, in place of al ahad Anas b. Malik, Zaid b. Thabit, Ibn al Zubair, Ibn Amr,
112:2 omitted
112:3 lam yulad wa lam yulid, in place of lam yalid wa lam yulad Aisha, Salim, Umm Salama, Ubaid b. Umar

Even today the variants and synonyms are found in such copies of the text as are attributed to the Companions and are of some value to us in the sense that they may have served as an early rudimentary form of tafsir. For example, according to some reports the words ‘salat al-wusta’ (middle prayer) were read and written by Hafsa, [Muwatta’ Malik; Jeffery, p. 214.] Ubay [Jeffery, p. 122.] and Ibn ‘Abbas [Jeffery, p. 196.] as ‘salat al-‘asr’ (i.e. afternoon prayer).

As long as the sahaba wrote their own copies for personal use only, there was nothing wrong, if they did not strictly adhere to the order of suras which was the order of the Qur’an. Later on, when ‘Uthman’s copy became the standard version, the Companions adopted the order of this copy including Ibn Mas’ud who perhaps differed most. [Ibn Abi Dawud, p. 12; Salih, S.: Mabahith fi ‘ulum al-qura’n, Beirut, 1964,]

There were also, as indicated, some variant readings in these copies, [See also below, seven readings and qira’at.] when some words were pronounced and spelt in slightly different ways, etc. However, it should be noted that variant readings are usually reported by a single person only, and occasionally by perhaps two or three while the version called the ‘Uthmanic text is mutawatir, i.e. transmitted by numerous people and is without doubt authentic.


During the time of ‘Uthman differences in reading the Qur’an became obvious, and after consultation with the Companions, ‘Uthman had a standard copy prepared from the suhuf of Abu Bakr that were kept with Hafsa at that time.

The following is the report transmitted in the Sahih Bukhari:

Narrated Anas bin Malik: Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to ‘Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to ‘Uthmfin, ‘O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Qur’an), as Jews and the Christians did before’. So ‘Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, ‘Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you’. Hafsa sent it to ‘Uthman. ‘Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, ‘Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Sa’id bin Al-‘As and ‘Abdur Rahman bin Hari-bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. ‘Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, ‘In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish as the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue’. They did so, and when they had written many copies, ‘Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. ‘Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Zaid bin Thabit added, ‘A verse from Sura al-Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur’an and I used to hear Allah’s Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari’. (That verse was): ‘Among the Believers are men who have been true in their convenant xwith Allah’ (33: 23). [Bukhari, VI, No. 510]

The following events led to the preparation of the mushaf of ‘Uthman:

  • Disputes had arisen among the Muslims about the correct manner of reciting the Qur’an.
  • ‘Uthman borrowed the suhuf, which were kept with Hafsa.
  • ‘Uthman ordered four Companions, among them Zaid bin Thabit, to rewrite the script in perfect copies.
  • ‘Uthman sent these copies to the main centres of the Muslims to replace other materials that were in circulation.

Chronology of the Written Text

  • Around 610 Muhammad’s Prophethood commences.
  • 1st revelation in cave on Mount Hira
  • Transmitted orally, later in written form.
  • 610-32 Muhammad in Makka and Madina.
  • Continious revelation on numerous occasions
  • Transmitted orally after memorisation by many, and writing down of revelation by various companions upon the direct instruction of the Prophet himself.
  • 632 Prophets death. Last revelation few days before this.
  • Compelete revelation left behind both in the memories of various companions as well as on various writing materials.
  • At the death of the Prophet, complete revelation left behind.
  • 632-34 Abu Bakrs caliphate
  • 633 During the battle of Yamama several companions who knew the Quran by heartwere killed.
  • Abu Bakr instructs Zaid b. Thabit to prepare a single copy of the complete revelation.
  • Zaid b. Thabit brings together all the revelation into the Suhuf from both oral as well as written sources demanding two witnesses for each piece. The Suhuf remain with Abu Bakr.
  • During the 1st/2nd year after the Prophets death the entire revelation was copied onto sheets (Suhuf).
  • 634-44 Umar’s Caliphate.
  • The Suhuf remain with Umar.
  • 644-56 Uthmans Caliphate.
  • The Suhuf remain with Hafsa bint Umar.
  • 653 Campaign against Armenia and Azerbaidjan.
  • Serious differences arose among muslims about the correct recitation of the Quran.
  • Uthman instructs Zaid together with three other sahaba to prepare copies from the Suhuf kept with Hafsa.
  • Zaid and three Companions prepare a number of fresh copies from the Suhuf. These copies are sent to the various muslim regions to replace other material in circulation.
  • Suhuf returned to Hafsa. ‘Uthman also keeps one copy (mushaf).
  • Several copies of the entire revelation available through out the muslim lands.

What the Prophet left to the Muslims

The revelation, as left by the Prophet, was available both orally and written on various materials. Its internal order was known to the Muslims and strictly observed by them.

Abu Bakr collected these loose materials and had their contents written on to sheets (suhuf).

The Difference between Abu Bakr’s and ‘Uthman’s Collection

Abu Bakr had made one single copy from the various verbal and written material. This copy was later kept by ‘Umar and then by his daughter Hafsa.

‘Uthman had many copies prepared from this copy and sent them to various places in the Muslim world, while the original suhuf were returned to Hafsa and remained with her until her death. Later, Marwan b. Hakam (d. 65/684), according to a report in Ibn Abi Dawud, collected it from her heirs and had it destroyed, presumably fearing it might become the cause for new disputes. ‘Uthman also kept one of the copies for himself. This version of the text, also known as ‘Mushaf ‘Uthman in fact constitutes the ijma'(consensus) of the sahaba, all of whom agreed that it contained what Muhammad had brought as revelation from Allah. [According to Ibn Abi Dawud (117-8) eleven changes wcre madu under al-Hajjaj, among them e.g. 5:48 ‘shari’atan wa minhajan’ into ‘shir’atan wa minhajan’; 12:45 ‘ana atikum bi-ta’wilihi’ into and unabbi’ukum bi ta’wilihi. These are again according to Ibn Abi Dawud mistakes which were made in the preparation of Uthmans copy (pp. 37-49). The first version of 12:45 e.g. was the reading of ‘Ubay (ibid. p. 138) and Ibn Masud (ibid. p. 39).]

The wide distribution of this text and its undisputed authority can also be deduced from the reports on the battle of Siffin (A.H. 37) 27 years after the death of the Prophet, and five years after ‘Uthman’s copies were distributed, Mu’awiya’s troops fixed sheets from the Qur’an on their spears to interrupt the battle. [See Suyuti, History of the Caliphs. transl. H. S. Jarrett. Baptist Mission Presss Calcutta. 1881, p. 177.] However nobody accused anyone else of using a ‘partisan’ version of the text, which would have made a splendid accusation against the enemy.


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