There are several components supporting the authenticity of the Quran. These include its revelation, inimitability, uniqueness, the life, and character of the one who received it, and its preservation. In this writing while we focus on the preservation component, we cover others briefly followed by conclusion:
The Qur’an was revealed over span of 23 years to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Unlike the books written by humans or human thoughts or theories which can progress or change over time, there is striking consistency in style, content, weight and language between the verses and chapters revealed in the year 1 and those revealed in the year 23. Through it all, God kept on revealing the Qur’an to him gradually. Occasionally, the revelations stopped temporarily, reminding him and others that the prophet had no control over them. One time when two envoys posed few questions to him, he replied, “Tomorrow, I will tell you.” expecting God will inspire the answers in him through revelation as he waited for Angel Gabriel (Jibril). However, revelation did not come for the next few weeks even as Meccans taunted him. Finally, God sent him the response while admonishing him in a verse “Do not say of anything, ‘I will do that tomorrow,’ without adding, ‘God willing’” (18:23-24). The Qur’an was revealed at a time when the Arabs excelled in oral poetry. However, despite his intelligence, Prophet Muhammad was not skilled in composing poetry. Yet, when the Qur’anic verses were recited, they stunned even the most acclaimed poets in the society. Deeply moved by the rhythmic tone, literary merit, and penetrating wisdom of the Qur’an, many converted to Islam.
The inimitable nature of the Qur’an continues to be the most compelling proof of its authenticity and that Muhammad was, in fact the final Prophet of God. While performing physical miracles was granted to some prophets as signs that caused the people to believe in them, these miracles were limited in number of people who witnessed them and limited to moment they were performed at. The main Miracle of Prophet Muhammad was his book which continues to live on till end of time. That is; the Qur’an is uniquely effective in guiding people to faith over the passage of time. It should not surprise us that a permanent living miracle that can be experienced firsthand by successive generations outperforms miraculous event witnessed by a limited group at some moment in history. However, what does amaze many, is how any ‘work of literature’ could ever qualify as a book with literal Devine origin? The Qur’an presents itself as the literal speech of God (9:6) and asserts that nothing like it will ever be produced: “Say, "If mankind and the jinn gathered in order to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce the like of it, even if they were to help one another."(17:88). This inimitability has many aspects, one of which is its content and style. While it may be difficult for many people to fully grasp how any work of language can be miraculous, al-Baqilani (d. 1013 AH) argues in his book, I‘jaz al-Qurʾān (The Inimitability of the Qur’an, Egypt: Dar al- 2 Maʿarif, 1997, 1:20.) that it suffices to consider the reaction of the Qur’an’s first audience. Instead of outperforming the illiterate man in what was their greatest forte, thereby ending his religion in its infancy by simply responding to his challenge of producing something like the Qur’an, they spent fortunes trying to smear his name and worked tirelessly to prevent a single Qur’anic verse from reaching the ears and hearts of visitors to Mecca. They disavowed their codes of chivalry and tribal honor to starve Muhammad’s followers, torture them, and ultimately wage wars and assassination attempts against their fellow clansmen. Upon failing to meet the challenge, they felt compelled to reach for their swords. It was not just because their greatest poets like Labid ibn Rabiʿah were now converting to Islam and retiring from poetry, but due to them echoing in private that rivaling the Qur’an was evidently impossible for human beings. When al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah—a staunch enemy of Islam until his death—was asked to critique the Qur’an, he responded, “And what can I possibly say? There is not a single man among you who is more versed in poetry than I, or in the poems of even the jinn. And by God, what he says bears no resemblance to any of these things.”
That is why God challenged mankind to bring a book like it, if not bring a chapter like one of its chapters. No one since its first revelation has been able to do so. It is not because people did not try. Throughout times there have been many Shakespeare-like Arabs who tried to change or come up with a chapter like it, but they failed. Hence, the challenge has remained throughout history as the Qur’an points out: “And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a surah [chapter] the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful. (2 :23).
Another aspect of the Qur’an that makes it impossible to imitate is its historic content, which is remarkably accurate, and compared to the Bible, no discrepancy exists between the oral transmission of the Qur’an and its earliest manuscripts. The following is an example of the amazing historical precision regarding ancient Egypt found in the Qur’an.
While both the Qur’an and the Bible state that the Pharaoh at the time of Moses drowned, the Qur’an adds that God will make an example of him for later oppressors by saving his corpse—on that same day—from being lost at sea in (10:90-92). Almost twelve hundred years after the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), until the invasions of Napoleon Bonaparte, knowledge of ancient Egypt was scarce at best. It was only after the discovery of a tablet called the Rosetta Stone, in 1799, that the subject of Egyptology was born, the hieroglyphics were deciphered, and reliable source material about this ancient civilization became available. Later, among the team of researchers sent from France to explore these newfound tombs was Dr. Maurice Bucaille, who published his great work on this project, Mummies of the Pharaoh: Modern Medical Investigations [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990, 15:156–6]. In there he explains Merneptah— son of Ramses II—was in fact the Pharaoh who drowned chasing Prophet Moses (PBUH). Among his fascinating finds was a small piece of the mummy’s muscle which under a microscope, indicated he did not remain in the sea for long. X-rays of this mummy also revealed that many of its bones were shattered by external blows (the crashing waves) before his death. Bucaille presented all these findings in 1976 to the French Institute for Forensic Medicine and received multiple national awards in France for this groundbreaking work. After describing their demise, the Qur’an says about Pharaoh and his troops, “And the heaven and earth wept not for 3 them, nor were they reprieved” (44:29). While maintaining the coherence of literal meaning of this verse, a recently discovered pyramid text has given us new depths to its meaning. According to Samuel Alfred Browne Mercer’s, The Pyramid Texts [1st ed., New York: Longmans, Green, 1952, p222], Pharaoh is described as ascending at death to claim supremacy of the heavens; as the ancient hieroglyphics read, “The sky weeps for you; the earth trembles for you…” In other words, the Qur’an was issuing a direct response to these specific mythological praises of him when verse 44:29 says, “And the heaven and earth wept not for them, nor were they reprieved”, this over one thousand years before these texts were discovered.
The Qur’an is unique in eloquence, wisdom, and prophecies not to mention its scientific miracles (or scientific mentions of many things in creation as signs), which point to facts in recent discoveries, but revealed fourteen centuries ago. Of course, just as no scientific book or theory claims to be Divine, no holy book claims to be a scientific book. The Qur’an is not a book of science despite so many verses that point to scientific facts, incite people to think, to observe, to rationalize, to use sound mind. Nor is it a book of philosophy.
The Qur’an embodies an open talk between man and his creator. It asserts a cause-and-effect relationship, that a law of requital is at work at every aspect of life, and that man has only to keep it in view if he must avoid the pitfalls of life and live in peace with himself and at peace with his surrounding relations. In other words, the Qur’an's main purpose is to tell us about the relationships between: God and man, man and man, and man and his subconscious. It is a Book that guides us to conduct our lives in this world. Its ideology instills the spirit of humanity. Nothing mentioned in the Qur’an is anti-science. If the Qur’an does not confirm or mention a scientific fact, it does not contradict it either. In fact, it is the other way around, many scientific facts mentioned or prophesized in the Qur’an, have been confirmed by the science in recent years (not that they need to be for a believer). Hence, the Qur’an and science can coexist, and each fulfill their goals.
The Qur’anic verses highlight in simple words ‘the process’ in creation of many things aiming to draw our attention to the presence and works of our creator and the purposes for these creations. Today’s science, especially in the last two centuries is confirming some of these Qur’anic revelations sent down fourteen centuries ago. The Qur’an provides a basis for the development of philosophy of nature, thus a perspective to the philosophy of science. It awakens human curiosity and instills a spirit of inquiry in all those who adopt Islam as their way of life. Deductively, then, the Qur’an encourages mankind to engage in the pursuit of science, a uniqueness never seen before.
Regarding its uniqueness in eloquence, whether we consult the highest authorities of the Arabic language in early Arabia, or its foremost experts among academics today, there is consensus on the literary uniqueness of the Qur’an. Professor Martin Zammit, the author of A Comparative Lexical Study of Qur’anic Arabic, says, “Notwithstanding the literary excellence of some of the long pre-Islamic poems… the Qur’an is definitely on a level of its own as the most eminent written manifestation of the Arabic language.”
During the Prophet’s time, Arabs valued language almost as much as life itself. Before Islam, they called non-Arabs ʿajam (means; silent or speechless), implying that others were not equally alive, or were deficient in literature and speech, since they could not articulate with the same clarity and articulation. Whenever a poet emerged in an Arab tribe, other tribes would come to congratulate, feasts would be prepared, and old and young men would all rejoice at the good news—for this was a sign of their honor and boasting their lineages. Such festivities were expected since the old Arabic poetry is a highly complex phenomenon. The vocabulary, grammatical idiosyncrasies, and strict norms were passed down from generation to generation, and only the most gifted students fully mastered the language. Everyone else was validated by what they retained in memory of these speeches that captured the history, morals, and wisdoms of this otherwise primitive desert people. Sophistication, accuracy, and preservation aside, simply hearing the Qur’an continues to have a unique and extraordinary effect on people.
This was the historical context within which the Qur’an was revealed; it descended amid people at the peak of rhetorical expression. Virtually overnight, these same people experience the verses of the Qur’an from Muhammad (PBUH) that is pure in its Arabic, unprecedented in its eloquence, but mysteriously independent of the poetry or text they knew and mastered. The prideful Arabs could not explain how they collectively failed its challenge to produce a single chapter with merely ‘similar’ literary features, according to their own biased judges, not even a short chapter, but that was not all. The killer blow leaving absolutely no room for further doubt, was the fact that he was unschooled to begin with. As Allah says, “And you did not recite before it any scripture, nor did you inscribe one with your right hand. Otherwise, the falsifiers would have had [cause for] doubt.” (29:48)
The Life and Character of Prophet Muhammad who received it
As a Prophet and messenger of God, Muhammad’s biggest miracle was his book, the Holy Qur’an. A living proof of his mission and prophethood among us today, the spoken word of God revealed fourteen hundred years ago which has remained undistorted, intact, and free of any error or contradiction since its revelation. Because it has remained unchanged, there is only one version of it and because it is the literal word of God, reading it is an act of worship hence many Muslims read it daily and memorize it. It will be preserved through end of time as promised by God: “Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur'an and indeed, We will be its guardian. (15:9)”
It is not a report related to someone, it is not a gospel according to someone written many years later, rather all the text and reports are from God not from anyone else, not even prophet Muhammad (PBUH). As such it is the most reliable document one can refer to find God’s point of view on this topic as well as others. When one reads the Qur’an with an open mind and open heart, one concludes that what is in it, would have to be the truth.
Muslim theologians point out that people who simply read the biography of Muhammad ascertain that he could not have forged the Qur’an. This happens by observing his flawless integrity, which even non-Muslim historians have acknowledged, but also by witnessing how the Qur’anic text consistently subordinates Muhammad in various ways. This brings our discussion to full circle. If the Prophet was, in fact the author of the Qur’an, we would expect the following from him?
The name of Moses (PBUH) appears in the Qur’an over 130 times, the name of Jesus (PBUH) appears 25 times, while the name of Muhammad (PBUH) appears only 5 times. One would think that a person would avoid citing those he is accused of plagiarizing from (especially when being mocked daily by the Jews of Madinah). - Mary, the Mother of Jesus (PBUH) is cited by name over 30 times in the Qur’an, while the Prophet Muhammad’s own wives and daughters are not named a single time therein. Had he wanted to elevate the status of his family for political clout, for instance, one might think he would have included a tribute, or simply mentioned their names, at least once.
Authors usually boast about their book being novel, special, never done before not merely the replica of a prior book or thesis, while the Qur’an is the exact opposite. While it does bring some new concepts and revelations, its primary function was to recall humanity to a treasure they once had, but long distorted as God instructs the Prophet: “Say, ‘I am not something original among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me…’” (46:9).
Ibn Umm Maktum, a blind man, interrupted an important meeting which displeased the Prophet, but he just frowned silently as not to offend this believer. And yet, the Qur’an reveals the very thing the Prophet had tried to conceal. A verse which can be recited in prayer until the end of time. “He frowned and turned away when the blind man came to him” (80:1-2). Would a swindler invent verses that criticize himself?
In another verse God is censuring him for the premature ransoms he accepted to release the captives after the Battle of Badr as it says, “If not for a decree from Allah that preceded, you would have been touched for what you took by a great punishment” (8:68). If someone’s superior admonishes him in private, would he publicize to others and teach lessons to them on the incident in a book that is to be read by vast number of people?
Several such passages exist in the Qur’an, yet they never undermined the Prophet’s credibility with his Companions who knew he was not threatening himself; these were words of God, and he was just delivering them with full integrity. One might misinterpret as God being hard to the Prophet in such verses which must have caused him pain. However, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) never took them this way, for the Qur’an was also filled with reassurances of God’s unique love and care for him, and because he understood that hardships were inseparable from the mission and elevated rank of prophethood. Some of these difficulties were physical, like on the battlefield, which also served to prove his mortality and his courage, among other things. Others were emotional, such as some of these verses above, which served to separate him from all notions of authorship. During his life and until the end of time, this genre of verses has done just that: allowed people to realize that these can only be the echoes of an honest messenger of God.
For further proof, you can read about life, and tradition of Muhammad (PBUH) written not just by Muslims, but also many non-Muslim scholars, historians and writers realizing how this man touched the lives of so many not just in his own lifetime, but lives many in generations that followed till now, a population which has reached over 1.8 billion today as his legacy continues.
His message is heard by many every day as his followers grow in number especially in the West. A man who stood up in Arabia and made bold statements with full confidence to people of the world with unflinching claim that his massage was universal and to remain intact till end of time. Once one reads about Muhammad’s life (PBUH), one would realize he practiced what he preached to the fullest. Afterall that is what will impact people’s hearts and minds. He was an icon among his people in telling the truth and his trustworthiness all his life even before he was chosen as a prophet. How then after forty years of living among his people being truthful and trustworthy, could he turn around tell the biggest lie about his being a prophet and messenger of God? A mission he was not willing to compromise or give up even when enticed with the promises of fulfilling anything he wanted such as power, money, wealth, and women if only he gave up his mission. And when he declined, he along with his followers were persecuted for 13 years while in Mecca (before he was forced to leave). Is that something anyone would do of his mission and intention was not genuine? Who would take persecution over wealth, power, and other pleasures of life? We can talk more about his life and his mission in another writing, but many eminent personalities over the years have taken inspiration from the life of Prophet Muhammad and some have unbiasedly shared their views. Here are few sample excerpts about Muhammad (PBUH) as they relate to this topic:
In his book Muhammad the Prophet of Islam, the Professor of Philosophy Ramakrishna Rao called him “Perfect model for Human life” and said: “The personality of Muhammad, it is most difficult to get into the whole truth of it. Only a glimpse of it I can catch. What a dramatic succession of picturesque scenes! There is Muhammad, the Prophet. There is Muhammad, the Warrior; Muhammad, the Businessman; Muhammad, the Statesman; Muhammad, the Orator; Muhammad, the Reformer; Muhammad, the Refuge of Orphans; Muhammad, the Protector of Slaves; Muhammad, the Emancipator of Women; Muhammad, the Judge; Muhammad, the Saint. All in all, these magnificent roles, in all these departments of human activities, he is alike a hero."
Wolfgang Goethe (the famous German writer and poet) believed that: “He is a prophet and not a poet and therefore his Koran is to be seen as a divine law and not as a book of a human being made for education or entertainment.”
In his 1934 speech published in Times of India Mahatma Gandhi said: “From my reading, I received the impression that the Prophet Muhammad was a seeker of truth. He was God-fearing. In this I know I am not telling you anything new. I am only describing to you how I was impressed by his life. He suffered endless persecution. He was brave and feared no man but God alone. He did what he considered to be right in scorn of consequences. He was never found to say one thing and do another.” And on another occasion in Young India Newspaper he said: “I wanted to know the best of the one who holds today’s undisputed sway over the hearts of Millions of mankind. I became more than convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter humbleness of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission”.
The Encyclopedia Britannica (in Vol. 12) cites: “A mass of detail in the early sources show that he was an honest and upright man who had gained the respect and loyalty of others who were likewise honest and upright men… Mohammad is the most successful of all Prophets and religious personalities”.
The Scottish historian and academic, Dr. Montgomery Watt, addresses this perspective in his writing: “His readiness to undergo persecutions for his beliefs, the high moral character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement all argue his fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad an impostor raises more problems than it solves. Moreover, none of the great figures of history is so poorly appreciated in the West as Muhammad.”
As a historian and a philosopher, Dr. William Draper studied the life of Prophet Mohammed. He looked at every aspect of the Prophet’s life from both historical and philosophical perspectives. In his book, History of Intellectual Development of Europe, Dr. William Draper summarized his conclusion in the following brief, yet profound words: “Four years after the death of Justinian, A.D. 569, was born in Mecca, in Arabia, the man who, of all men, has exercised the greatest influence upon humanity…Mohammed. To be the religious head of many empires, to guide the daily life of one-third of the human race, may perhaps justify the title of a Messenger of God." [A History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, London, 1875, vol.1, pp. 329-330]
The Dutch author and Professor Christiaan Hurgronje writes: “Today after a lapse of fourteen centuries, the life and teachings of Muhammad (PBUH) have survived without the slightest loss, alteration, or interpolation. They offer the same undying hope for treating mankind's many ills, which they did when he was alive. This is not a claim of Muhammad's (PBUH) followers but also the inescapable conclusion forced upon by a critical and unbiased history. He was by far the most remarkable man that ever set foot on this earth. He preached a religion, founded a state, built a nation, laid down a moral code, initiated numerous social and political reforms. He established a powerful and dynamic society to practice and represent his teachings and completely revolutionized the worlds of human thought and behavior for all times to come.
In this section we answer the following question: Is the Qur’an we have today, the same as the one revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) fourteen centuries ago? Once we conclude the Qur’an is direct word of God as revealed to Prophet Muhammad, then we can proceed to conclude it has remained the same as it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad until today. As indicated, the Qur’an was revealed over a span of 23 years to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Muslims believe it has been preserved since the revelation till present time (which spans over fourteen hundred years) as promised by God himself:
“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur'an and indeed, We will be its guardian” (15:9)
How was it preserved? Of course, for Muslims this verse, this promise from God is enough to know that He will indeed protect the Qur’an from any errors and changes over time. However, for those who do not accept the authenticity of the Qur’an in the first place, clearly this verse cannot serve as proof, since the verse is in the Qur’an itself. It is from here and what we covered above that our academic discussion begins. To do so, we need to be familiar with the facts on the ground when the Qur’an was revealed.
Most Arabs in that time were illiterate and basically committed everything to memory. As such they had developed such strong memories and since poems were popular, many had memorized a great number of poems and had many great poets like Amr ibn Kulthoum. When the verses of Qur’an were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), not only he would commit to his own memory, but also repeated for others who did the same. He also had scribes who wrote down the verses on things like leather and scrolls made from papyrus. Papyrus was cultivated and used as writing material by the Arabs of Egypt down to the time when the growing manufacture of paper from other plant fibers in the 8th and 9th centuries CE rendered papyrus unnecessary when Muslims learned the common paper manufacturing from Chinese and made it commercially available. Therefore, verses of the Qur’an were both committed to memories and written down as they were revealed. It is important to note that Muhammad (PBUH) would have the scribes read back the verses to him after writing them down to make sure there were no errors. To further ensure that there were no errors, he ordered that no one records anything else, not even his sayings (hadith), on the same sheet as the Qur’an. Regarding the sheets with the writings of the Qur’an according to Sahih Muslim, [al-Zuhd:72], he stated "and whoever has written anything from me other than the Qur’an should erase it”. This was done to ensure that no other words were accidentally included in the Qur’anic text.
The memorization aspect was just as important if not more. Arabia in the 600s was an oral society. While few people could read and write, there was big emphasis on ability to memorize long poems, letters, and other messages. Before Islam, Mecca was a center of Arabic poetry. Annual festivals were held every year which brought together the best poets from all over the Arabian Peninsula. Many attendees would memorize the exact words that their favorite poets recited and quote them years and decades later. Therefore, in this type of oral society, many of the Companions learned and recorded the Qur’an by memorization. In addition to their natural ability to memorize, the rhythmic nature of the Qur’an made its memorization much easier. Furthermore, the Qur’an was not narrated to just a few select Companions. It was heard and memorized by hundreds and thousands of people, many of them travelers to Madinah and other locations. Thus, chapters and verses of the Qur’an quickly spread during the life of the Prophet (PBUH) to all corners of the Arabian Peninsula. Those who had heard verses from the Prophet would go and spread them to tribes far away, who would also memorize them. In this way, the Qur’an was vastly disseminated to large number of people, who all had the same exact wording, all of which makes it inconceivable that any one person or group could have changed or falsified it. It is also very important to note once people committed the verses to memory, they did not just leave it there to be forgotten. Muslims repeated these verse every day in their five daily prayers, in their gatherings and in their conversations where they quoted these verse to each other (to make their point), in their recitation gatherings as an act of worship, in their sermons, in their Qur’anic discussion and study sessions, in their nightly optional prayers, and in their Ramadan prayers where they would recite the long chapters and finish the Qur’an cover to cover by the end of the month. A tradition which is still practiced today. When you repeat something so many times daily and monthly, how could you forget or misplace a word or make any mistake? It is much like students in a school who memorize their national anthem and recite it every morning at the school yard for 12 years. None of them forgets or makes a mistake. That is why many Arabs in that time had the entire Qur’an memorized and then trained others to do the same. From the memorization perspective this is how the Qur’an was passed around nation to nation and passed down generation to generation, without a word misplaced or misread. As the Qur’an itself confirms:
“Rather, the Qur'an is distinct verses [preserved] within the hearts of those who have been given knowledge. And none reject Our verses except the unjust one” (39:49).
Within a year after Prophet Muhammad’s death, a manuscript of the entire Qur’an was assembled by a committee led by his chief scribe, who followed stringent criteria to safeguard against any errors. He only accepted pieces of parchment with the Qur’an on them which had been written down in the presence of the Prophet (PBUH) and there had to be witnesses who could attest to that fact. It was then checked by several memorizers (within Medina) ensuring that there was no discrepancy between the written and oral versions. This copy was then approved unanimously by Prophet Muhammad’s companions, and hundreds of others who had memorized the entire Qur’an. When the task was completed, a finalized book of all the verses was compiled and presented to Abu Bakr (first kahlifa -successor), who secured it in the archives in Madinah. Had there been discrepancies, the people of Madinah would have raised the issue. However, there is no record of any opposition to Abu Bakr's project or its outcome. Eventually, few copies of the Qur’an were compiled in book form and distributed to the major Muslim cities.
Of course, later at the time of Othman the 3rd khalifa, again the written records of the Qur’an were collected and put together with supervision of a large committee of scribes and the memorizers (huffaz) in order to make multiple producible copies to be sent to other Muslim communities whose spoken language was not Arabic but wanted to learn and memorize the Qur’an and each community would have their own copies to distribute. One such copy is currently at the museum in Tashkent and a facsimile of it, produced in 1905, is available in the Columbia University Library. Along with each copy sent to various communities, a teacher and reciter (qari) was sent to teach them how to recite and pronounce the words. This was an effort backed and resourced by the Muslim government in that time. Obviously memorizing and publishing the verses of the Qur’an was easy for them because it was in their spoken Arabic language hence easy to understand and memorize. It was during the time of third khalifa, a new issue was raised in the Muslim community, namely pronunciation. During the life of the Prophet (PBUH), the Qur’an was revealed in seven different dialects (qira'as). The dialects differed slightly in their pronunciation of certain letters and words, but the overall meaning did not change. These seven dialects were not an innovation or corruption of the Qur’an, rather mentioned and sanctioned by the Prophet himself, and there are numerous sayings of his describing the authenticity of all seven dialects that are recorded in the hadith compilations of Bukhari and Muslim. The reason for there being different dialects for the Qur’an was to make it easier for different tribes around the Arabian Peninsula to learn and understand it. During Uthman's reign, people coming into the Muslim world from other regions like Persia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and North Africa were beginning to learn the Qur’an. The issue for them was the pronunciation of words, as they would hear different Arabs pronouncing the same verses differently. Although the different pronunciations were sanctioned by the Prophet (PBUH) and there was no inherent harm in people reciting and teaching them, it led to confusion among new non-Arab Muslims. Uthman responded by commissioning a group to come together, organize the Qur’an according to the dialect of the tribe of Quraysh (the Prophet’s tribe), and spread the Qurayshi dialect to all parts of the empire. Uthman's team (which included Zaid bin Thabit, the scribe who also participated in the first collection ordered by first successor) compiled a Qur’an into one book (known as a mus'haf - from the word for page, sahifa) based on firsthand manuscripts, along with the memories of the best Qur’an reciters of Madinah. This mus'haf was then compared with the copy that first khalifa Abu Bakr commissioned, to make sure there were no discrepancies. Uthman then ordered numerous copies of the mus'haf to be made and distributed to far off provinces throughout the empire, along with reciters who would teach the masses the recitation and memorization of the Qur’an. As a result, because the Qur’an was now compiled and produced on a regular basis, there was no need for people to keep the numerous fragments in their possession. Therefore, he ordered that those fragments be destroyed so they cannot be used in the future to cause confusion among the masses.
Although Orientalists use this incident to try to prove the erroneous claim that there were some discrepancies that Uthman wanted to eliminate, that is a baseless view of the event. The entire community in Madinah, including numerous eminent Companions such as Ali ibn Abi Talib, willingly went along with this plan, and no objections were raised. Had he been eliminating legitimate differences, the people of Madinah would have surely objected or even revolted against Uthman, neither of which happened. Instead, the mus'haf of Uthman was accepted by the entire community as authentic and correct. Another claim made by the Orientalists and critics is that the Mus'haf of Uthman lacked any diacritical marks which are marks placed above or below or sometimes next to a letter in a word to indicate a particular pronunciation as well as meaning, which then differentiated the letters and vowel markings. The letters seen in his mus'haf are thus just the skeletal base of Arabic letters and without diacritical marks (according to the claims), a reader can then read the word differently with different meaning. There are numerous flaws in this argument:
Firstly, the fact that Uthman sent reciters with his copies of the mus'haf is of great importance. We must remember that the main way the Qur’an was preserved was orally, and the written copies were only meant to be a supplement to oral recitation. If someone already has a verse memorized, the skeletal letters in a copy of Uthman's mus'haf served only as a visual aid when reciting. To visualize this, if you look at some of the old calligraphic inscriptions in Arabic on some old buildings or mosques, written in the same Kufic script saying for example In the name of God just as written in Uthman's mus'haf, you will see that anyone who has seen these words, will read them correctly. Even someone with limited familiarity would read it correctly as if it had all the markings. In the same way the mus'haf of Uthman could be easily read by someone who was familiar with the verses and the Arabic script. Thus, the claim that lack of diacritical marks makes it impossible to know what the original word was, is clearly baseless. Secondly, even if someone who does not know Arabic and reads it wrongly, from contextual clues an educated reader can easily figure out what word it is supposed to be. While in some cases a reader may accidentally replace the meaning of one word with another that still makes sense, these occasions are rare with the way the Arabic language is set up, and all this still assuming there are no Qur’anic reciters around to guide the reader.
Over time, during the 7 th and 8th centuries, diacritical marks were added to the mus'hafs throughout the Muslim world. This was done as the Muslim world shifted from an oral to a written society to further facilitate reading from a copy of the Qur’an and to eliminate errors by people who did not already know the verses they were reading. Today, almost all modern mus'hafs include diacritical marks on the skeletal letters along with vowel markings to make reading easier. Not even a single copy anywhere in the world would have even a vowel or a letter misplaced. One of the most pressing issues in the eyes of the early Muslims was the protection of the sanctity of the Qur’an. Numerous times throughout the Qur’an, the Muslims are reminded that the Jews and Christians corrupted their texts over time, which now cannot be taken as authentic.
As a result, early Muslims developed a system for ensuring that the Qur’an would not be subject to change by human error, either intentional or unintentional.
The process of memorization began during Prophet Muhammad’s life and is still emphasized by Muslims to this day. In his book, An Introduction to Hadith, John Burton explains that oral transmission through the generations aids preservation by diminishing reliance solely on written records. Manuscripts which are not protected through memorization can be altered, edited, or lost overtime. However, a book that is committed to memory by millions of people across the world over centuries cannot be changed due to the amount of people who know it word-for-word. As such since its first revelation, literally thousands and thousands memorized and recited it everywhere. If any person tried to alter anything in it, or add something or leave out anything, he would be exposed right away. The very same Arabic language exists today and spoken by millions of people. Hence the Qur’an is not in a language that is extinct or unspoken today. Of course, because Muslims believe the Qur’an is direct word of God, it follows that its recitation and memorization is an act of worship for which they are rewarded by God which makes the recitation and memorization of it much more enticing for them. As such since its first revelation till now, millions of Muslims have literally memorized the Qur’an making it the most frequently read and memorized book in human history. So far, we notice the Qur’an was taught to the numerous Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) rather than limited few people. As verses became widespread across the Islamic world, it was impossible for those verses to be changed without Muslims in other parts of the world noticing and correcting them.
At the end, the mission of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was to correct and reform the deviations which had occurred after the earlier prophets, such as trinity and ascribing divinity to other than God. As such because these earlier books no longer held the true revelation as a whole, the next book had to be preserved by no other than God himself and because Prophet Muhammad was the last and final messenger of God, his book had to remain untouched, and undistorted till end of times because no additional Prophets were to come after him. The Qur’an confirms it in chapter 16 by saying:
“By Allah, We did certainly send [messengers] to nations before you, but Satan made their deeds attractive to them. And he is the disbelievers' ally today [as well], and they will have a painful punishment. And We have not revealed to you the Book, [O Muhammad], except for you to make clear to them over which they have differed and as guidance and mercy for a people who believe” (16:63-64).
Furthermore, regarding the preservation of the Qur’an, we say the Qur’anic verses are written in Arabic language (as its language when revealed) which is a language spoken today by many. Hence preserved in its original language without any interpolation, paraphrasing, translation etc... As such you can pick up a copy in US, another in Europe, yet another in Japan or Middle east, they will all be identical. Not a word, or a vowel misplaced, added, or taken out. There is only one version of it. There has only been one version since the beginning and will continue to be the same one till end of time, because it is God’s promise to preserve it himself. Because you leave it to humans, they will change everything including God’s words. It is not because people did not try to do the same with the Qur’an. Throughout times there have been many Shakespeares of Arab world who tried to change or come up with a chapter like it, in order to prove it is not God’s words and they can do something like it however they failed. Furthermore, since the transmission of the Qur’an does not hinge solely on written records, this allows for measuring the written against the oral to ensure that the documentation and dissemination processes were completed reliably and meticulously. In other words, it is the “memorized by heart” as Allah says:
“Rather, the Qur’an is distinct verses [preserved] within the chests of those endowed with sacred knowledge, and none rejects our verses but the unjust” (29:49).
Orientalist Alford T. Welch writes, “For Muslims, the Ḳurʾān is much more than scripture or sacred literature in the usual Western sense. Its primary significance for the vast majority through the centuries has been in its oral form, the form in which it first appeared, as the “recitation” (kurʾān) chanted by Muhammad to his followers over a period of about twenty years… The revelations were memorized by some of Muhammad’s followers during his lifetime, and the oral tradition that was thus established has had a continuous history ever since, in some ways independent of, and superior to, the written version… Through the centuries the oral tradition of the entire Ḳurʾān has been maintained by the professional reciters, while all Muslims memorize parts of the Ḳurʾān for use in the daily prayers. Until recently, the significance of the recited Ḳurʾān has seldom been fully appreciated in the West”. [ Alford T. Welch, R. Paret, and J. D. Pearson, s.v. “Al-Ḳurʾān,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., ed. P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W. P. Heinrichs, Brill Reference Online.]
The Qur’an itself acknowledges as Allah said: “And We have certainly made the Qur’an easy to be remembered, so is there anyone who will remember?” (54:17)
Conclusion No reasonable or objective person who learns about the seven facts mentioned above regarding the Qur’an, its revelation, preservation, inimitability, and uniqueness, and the life and character of the one who received it and disseminated it, render it as a forgery, or haphazard stroke of genius. After reading and contemplating on it, and all the facts analyzed above, isn’t Qur’an’s unique and persuasive linguistic form, mystifying accuracy about truth of the past and future, its harmonious theological and legal framework, its uniqueness enough reasons to indicate its Devine origin? Is it even imaginable that an illiterate man from 7th-century Arabia would spend 40 years of his life preoccupied with shepherding and trade and then author—overnight—a linguistic masterpiece with intricate details of lost knowledge from the depths of books that never existed in his age, and from books that would only be written more than a millennium later? Even the most educated and in fact all of mankind as a collective, will continue to find it impossible to rival its inimitability which has been prophesized by itself,
“Say [O Muhammad], ‘If mankind and the jinn gathered in order to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like of it, not even if they were to help one another” (17:88).
Just as Allah sent Moses (PBUH) with the ability to overcome the greatest sorcerers combined in their own craft, and Jesus (PBUH) with the ability to heal in ways that the master physicians combined could never match, so did He send Muhammad (PBUH) with an eternal book that would challenge the speech of mankind until the end of time. The Qur’an says: “So then where are you going? It is but a reminder to people of the world. For whoever among you wishes to take the right course.” (81:26-28).
Over a period of 23 years, God's words (the Qur'an) were put into Muhammad's mouth and heart. He was not the "author" of the Qur'an, rather the receiver of it as it was dictated to him by Angel Gabriel who asked Muhammad to simply repeat the words of the Qur'an as he heard them. These words were then committed to memory and to writing under his supervision.
So far, the orientalists of the past, the skeptics, and critics of the present while making various allegations, comments and claims against authenticity of the Qur’an, have not produced a single shred of evidence supporting them. While there are many books, articles, etc. written on Authenticity of the Qur’an (one can refer to), plus the fact scholarly works of hundreds of people throughout Islamic history cannot be summarized in few pages, here we have provided not an exhaustive study, rather a summary of major facts pointing to authenticity of the Qur’an in this article through critical analysis of the historical and rational evidence which we urge anyone who is enquiring and curious, or any objective skeptics to read in its entirety and judge for themselves.
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