The truth is that the Qur’an was not preserved through any written text. If there were documents that carried the Qur’anic text in written form, they were in addition to the original divine plan to get it preserved
By Dr Khalid Zaheer
Do I read the original Qur’an today when I recite its text? The question is of paramount importance to me if I want take my faith seriously. My faith is based on my confidence that the text of the Qur’an I read was not authored by the prophet. Instead it is the word of God. The prophet, God’s mercy be on him, only presented it to us in His name. The prophecy of the Old Testament about the prophet and the Qur’an tells us that God says: “(I) will put my words in his mouth … (which) he shall speak in my name.” That is exactly how it happened: The exact words of God’s revelation were secured in the prophet’s memory and he presented it by mentioning God’s name.
But how can one even consider that claim if one was not confident whether the text was exactly the same as was presented by the prophet in the first place, claiming it to be from God? There are claims about the Qur’an that would make us believe that its text was written a decade and a half after the demise of the prophet, that there were differences to begin with on what exactly constituted the text which only got resolved through consultation of some senior companions of the prophet, and that the text could be read in seven variant ways each of which was equally valid. To add to the confusion, it is also mentioned that the vowels and dots were inserted in the Qur’anic text much later. In the light of these well-known claims, any realistic prospects of having confidence in the authenticity of the text are bleak.
God has arranged His religion to reach us through unanimity and uninterrupted continuity. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any minor differences. However, if those differences are looked at more closely, they don’t appear to threaten the process of authentic transmittance of the religious text
The truth is that the Qur’an was not preserved through any written text. It didn’t need to. If there were documents that carried the Qur’anic text in written form, they were in addition to the original divine plan to get it preserved. The Qur’an was preserved through the text getting memorised by Muslims. Even though documentation of texts in writing had begun to be considered as a way of preserving important literature at that time, memorising was an important part of the process in preserving poetry in particular. The Qur’an is not poetry, but its rhyming verses offer the same benefit as poetry does.
How can one be sure whether what is being recited through human memory is original? One should imagine a travel backwards in Muslim history. What we find today is that hundreds of thousands of Muslims have memorised the same Qur’anic text. This remarkable phenomenon owes itself to the fact that the present crop of Huffaz (those who have memorised the entire text of the Qur’an) took over from their teachers of the last generation who again were in a large number. Continuing with this process of working backwards, we reach the stage where it originated from: The prophet influenced many of his companions to memorise the Qur’an completely. Had there been a fault in this process, we would have found not one but a number of variant texts in the memory of Muslim Huffaz. How could this remarkable feat get accomplished had it not been for the chain of Huffaz originating from the prophet’s time and continuing to increase their number to reach hundreds and thousands of them that we have today?
Non-Muslims can be forgiven for not understanding this process. They don’t have a precedence of a religious text getting preserved through memory the way the Qur’an was preserved. The closest example they can witness is of poetry getting preserved through memory. They should be encouraged to get a first-hand experience of the manner the Qur’an is recited through the memory of Imams (leaders of the prayers) who at times get corrected if they are doing it wrong. A keen observation of the process can lead an intelligent observer to see how the process must have been happening right from the beginning.
The criticism on the authenticity of the Qur’anic text based on the claim that vowels were inserted in the text at a later stage is based on a lack of understanding of irrelevance of the need of inserting vowels in a memorised text. When we speak an Arabic word (and Urdu as well which is fashioned on the lines of Arabic), we can’t do it without clarifying its vowels. When we speak the word ‘Kitab’, for example, we read an ‘i’ after ‘k’ and an ‘a’ after ‘t’ whenever we pronounce the word. When the same word is written without vowels, one would write letters k,t, and b only. We don’t write vowels when we write Urdu text either, but we employ them when we read the text.
The fact that a slightly different text of the Qur’an is recited in Tunisia, Morocco, and some parts of Sudan and Yemen is also an obstacle an intelligent believer has to come to terms with. Even though the Muslim population that is following this variant reading is a tiny minority, it demands an explanation for one’s intellect-based faith. For one thing, the sequence and most part of the variant text is exactly the same. To that extent, it inspires confidence. However, the differences in the two readings still needs a credible explanation. If the Qur’an is an undisputed text from God, it should appear clearly as one, undisputed text coming from the prophet. The fact is that the variant reading in the places mentioned above is the one that was introduced in those places much after the demise of the prophet, God’s mercy on him. Dr Shahzad Saleem’s recent doctoral thesis on the subject has clarified convincingly that the variant reading was introduced in the third century Hijrah by a ruler who introduced it using his authoritative muscle. In other words, the Qur’anic text left by the prophet that has come down to us was in reality one text only.
God has arranged His religion to reach us through unanimity and uninterrupted continuity. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any minor differences. However, if those differences are looked at more closely, they don’t appear to threaten the process of authentic transmittance of the religious text.
“The article was published at dailycapital.pk on 20-MAR-15. We are reproducing here by permission”