June 22, 2024
Canonization of the Qur'an

Birmingham Quran Manuscript in Hijazi Script

In the Islamic tradition, the canonization of the Qur'an refers to the process through which the Qur'an was compiled, standardized, and preserved in its.....

In the Islamic tradition, the canonization of the Qur’an refers to the process through which the Qur’an was compiled, standardized, and preserved in its current form. This process ensured that the text remained unchanged and was uniformly accepted by all Muslims. Key stages in this process include:

1. Divine Revelation:

  • Source: The Qur’an is believed to be the literal word of God (Allah) revealed to humanity. It is considered the final and complete guidance from God to mankind.
  • Medium: The revelations were delivered by the Angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic) to the Prophet Muhammad.

a. The Prophet Muhammad:

  • Role: Muhammad is regarded as the last prophet in a long line of prophets sent by God. He received the Qur’anic revelations over a period of approximately 23 years, beginning in 610 CE when he was around 40 years old, until his death in 632 CE.
  • Method of Revelation: The revelations were conveyed to Muhammad in various forms—sometimes as clear words and other times as visions or intense spiritual experiences.

b. Gradual Revelation:

  • Period of Revelation: The Qur’an was revealed in segments over 23 years, addressing various circumstances, issues, and questions faced by the early Muslim community.
  • Occasions of Revelation: Specific verses were revealed to address particular events, legal rulings, and moral guidance. This process is known as “Asbab al-Nuzul” (occasions of revelation).

c. Preservation During Muhammad’s Lifetime:

  • Oral Tradition: Many of Muhammad’s companions, known as Sahabah, memorized the verses as they were revealed. This tradition of memorization is called “Hifz.”
  • Written Records: In addition to memorization, the revelations were also written down by scribes on various materials like palm leaves, parchment, bones, and stones. Key scribes included Zaid bin Thabit, Ubayy ibn Ka’b, and others.

The Qur’an provides internal evidence to show that the Qur’an was written down during its revelation.

Allah Almighty said:

You ˹O Prophet˺ could not read any writing even before this (revelation of the Qur’an), nor you have written it down with your own right hand. Otherwise, the people of falsehood would have been suspicious.

[Al-Ankaboot, 29:48]

He says further:

Is it not enough for them that We have sent down to you the Book, which is recited to them? Surely this ˹Quran˺ is a mercy and reminder for people who believe.

[Al-Ankaboot, 29:51]

These Qur’anic narratives prove that the whole Qur’an was written down in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This historical fact is also recorded in the authentic Hadiths.

2. Canonization of the Qur’an:

Following the death of Muhammad (peace be upon him), the first caliph, Abu Bakr (r. 632–634 CE), recognized the need to compile the Qur’an into a single, cohesive collection. This need became urgent after the Battle of Yamama in 633 CE, where many of those who had memorized the Qur’an were killed.

Narrated Az-Zuhri: From ‘Ubaid bin As-Sabbaq, that Zaid bin Thabit (May Allah be pleased with him) narrated to him, he said: ‘Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (May Allah be pleased with him) sent for me – (regarding) those killed at Al-Yamamah – and ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) was with him. He (Abu Bakr) said: “‘Umar came to me and said: The fighting inflicted many casualties among the reciters of the Qur’an on the Day of Al-Yamamah, and I fear that there will be more casualties among the reciters in other parts of the land, such that much of the Qur’an may be lost. In my view, you should order that the Qur’an be collected in a single Mushaf.'” Abu Bakr said to ‘Umar: “How can I do something which was not done by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)?” ‘Umar said: ‘By Allah! It is something good.’ ‘Umar continued trying to convince me until Allah opened up my chest to that which He had opened the chest of ‘Umar, and I agreed to his opinion.” Zaid said: ‘Abu Bakr said (to me): “You are a young wise man, and we have no suspicions of you. You used to write down the Revelation for the Messenger of Allah as the Qur’an was revealed.” He (Zaid) said: ‘By Allah! If they had ordered to move one of the mountains it would have been lighter on me than that.’ He said: ‘I said: “How will you do something which was not done by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)?” Abu Bakr said: “By Allah! It is something good.” Abu Bakr and ‘Umar continued trying to convince me, until Allah opened up my chest for that, just as He had opened their chests, the chest of Abu Bakr and the chest of ‘Umar. So I began searching for Qur’anic material from parchments, leaf stalks of date-palms and Al-Likhaf – meaning stones – and the chests of men. I found the end of Surah Bara’ah with Khuzaimah bin Thabit: Verily, there has come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He is eager for you; for the believers (he is) full of pity, kind, and merciful. But if they turn away, say: “Allah is sufficient for me. There is no god but He, in Him I put my trust, and He is the Lord of the Mighty Throne (9:128 & 129).'”

[Jami` at-Tirmidhi: H# 3103]

The hadith from Az-Zuhri, narrated by ‘Ubaid bin As-Sabbaq and reported by Zaid bin Thabit (May Allah be pleased with him), offers a detailed account of the codification of the Qur’an. Here’s an explanation highlighting the series of events:

a. Context of the Battle of Al-Yamamah:

  • Heavy Casualties Among Qur’an Reciters: The Battle of Al-Yamamah was a significant conflict in early Islamic history, occurring after the death of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during the Ridda Wars (wars of apostasy). This battle resulted in many casualties, particularly among those who had memorized the Qur’an (known as ‘Qurra‘).

b. Concern for Preservation:

  • Umar’s Concern: Umar ibn Al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) recognized the potential danger of losing the witnesses of the Qur’an if more memorizers were killed in future battles. He proposed the idea of compiling the Qur’an into a single written manuscript to preserve it.
  • Abu Bakr’s Initial Hesitation: Initially, Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) was hesitant to take a step that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had not explicitly done. He questioned the appropriateness of compiling the Quran into a single scripture that wasn’t done during the Prophet’s lifetime. He thought Allah Almighty was safeguarding the Qur’an and the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not order to compile the Qur’an into a single scripture.

c. Convincing Abu Bakr:

  • Umar’s Persistence: Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) persisted, arguing the merit and necessity of such an action. He convinced Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) that collecting the Qur’an into a single Mushaf (Scripture) was a beneficial and essential task.
  • Divine Inspiration: Eventually, Abu Bakr’s heart was opened to the idea, seeing it as something good and beneficial for the Muslim community.

d. Commissioning Zaid bin Thabit:

  • Selecting Zaid: Abu Bakr appointed Zaid bin Thabit (May Allah be pleased with him) to undertake the task of compiling the Qur’an. Zaid was chosen because of his wisdom, his experience as one of the Prophet’s scribes, and young enough to take this tiresome burden.
  • Zaid’s Hesitation: Zaid expressed that the task felt more burdensome than moving a mountain, indicating the gravity and responsibility of ensuring the Qur’an’s accurate compilation.
  • Convincing Zaid: Like Abu Bakr, Zaid (May Allah be pleased with him) also questioned doing something not done by the Prophet, but he was eventually convinced by Abu Bakr and Umar (May Allah be pleased with them).

e. Compilation Process:

  • Thorough Search: Zaid (May Allah be pleased with him) began an exhaustive process of collecting the Qur’anic verses. He gathered written fragments from various materials such as parchments, palm stalks, stones, and the memories of those who had memorized the Qur’an. Zaid (May Allah be pleased with him) compiled the Qur’an in Hejazi script.
  • Verification: Zaid’s method involved meticulous cross-referencing to ensure the authenticity and accuracy of the collected verses. An example given in the hadith is finding the concluding verses of Surah Bara’ah (Surah At-Tawbah) with Khuzaimah bin Thabit. It simply means he did not write a single verse without cross-reference and double-checking. Moreover, the commission did not accept any verses without their inscribed evidence. Abu Bakr and Umar (May Allah be pleased with them) were overseeing the whole process of the codification of the Qur’an.

f. Result:

  • Completion: This painstaking process led to the creation of a compiled manuscript of the Qur’an, ensuring its preservation and uniformity. This collection, known as the “Suhuf,” was kept with Abu Bakr, then Umar, and finally entrusted to Hafsa, Umar’s daughter. So the Qur’an was compiled into a single scripture only in the first year after the Prophet’s death.


This hadith underscores the crucial efforts of the early Muslim community, led by figures like Abu Bakr, Umar, and Zaid bin Thabit (May Allah be pleased with them), to preserve the Qur’an. They prepared the standard version of the Qur’an, to tally if there arises any disagreement regarding the Qur’anic Text.

3. Standardization of the Qur’anic Dialect:

Narrated Anas bin Malik (May Allah be pleased with him):

Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman (May Allah be pleased with him) came to `Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him) at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa (May Allah be pleased with him) was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to `Uthman, “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 (May Allah be pleased with her) 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 (May Allah be pleased with her) sent it to `Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him). `Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, `Abdullah bin AzZubair, Sa`id bin Al-As and `AbdurRahman bin Harith 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 dialect, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, 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.

[Sahih al-Bukhari: H# 4987]

  • Need for Standardization: During the caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan (May Allah be pleased with him) (r. 644–656 CE), as Islam spread to various regions, especially beyond Arabia, differences in Qur’anic recitation began to emerge. These variations were due to dialectical differences and the lack of multiple copies of the standardized text. Because at that time there was only one Standard Qur’anic Text (Mushaf) available throughout the Islamic world, present at Madinah, that was not easily accessible to non-Arab people.
  • Uthman’s Commission: To address this, Uthman formed a committee, again led by Zayd ibn Thabit, to produce a standardized version of the Qur’an. This committee relied on the compilation made during Abu Bakr’s time and cross-referenced it with the memories of reliable companions.
  • Creation of the Uthmanic Codex: The committee prepared several copies of the standardized text, and then sent these copies to the major Islamic cities.
  • Burning of the Text with Errors: Notably, the order of the burning Qur’anic text was not general, as it appears from the text of this Hadith, but only those parts of the perceived Qur’an that did not conform with the Standard Qur’anic Text. It is a matter of fact that many manuscripts including the parchments from which the Standard Qur’anic Text was prepared, and the Abu Bakr’s Standard Qur’anic Text were not burnt. Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (May Allah be pleased with him) and Abdullah ibn Masood (May Allah be pleased with him) did not burn their manuscripts because they conform to the Stadrad Qur’anic Text.

4. Preservation and Misconception:

  • Uthmanic Codex: It is a misconception that the only Uthmanic Codex forms the basis of the text of the Qur’an that Muslims use today. Actually, the Uthmanic Codex was nothing but a copy of Abu Bakr’s Standard Qur’anic Text. Based on the Uthmanic Codex, the orientalists claim that the Qur’an was first time codified in Uthman’s reign, but that is not the case in reality. No doubt, Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him) united the Muslim Ummah on Quraysh’s dialect, which is a great service of the Qur’an, but it does not mean he was the first to compile the Qur’an into the codex. The Hadiths mention that he made only the perfect copies of the Standard Qur’anic Text collected by Zaid ibn Thabit Commission in Abu Bakr’s time.
  • Memorization: The meticulous process of memorization (Hifz) and the practice of Qira’at (various canonical readings) further ensured the preservation of the Qur’an’s text.
  • Role of Scholars: Over the centuries, Muslim scholars have continued to study and verify the text, ensuring its consistency with the Uthmanic Codex. The development of Arabic script and diacritical marks in later periods helped standardize the recitation and reading of the Qur’an.


The codification of the Qur’an was a careful and systematic process, initiated by the immediate successors of Muhammad and completed under the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan. This process involved compiling oral and written pieces of the Qur’an into a single, standardized text, which has been meticulously preserved and transmitted through generations.

Story of the Seven Versions of the Qur’an

Western scholars try their best to forge stories about different versions of the Qur’an. Originally, the Qur’an was revealed in pure classic Arabic, spoken in Makkah in the dialect of Quraysh. However, like any language spoken in a major land like the Arabian Peninsula, Arabic has some local dialects of certain words.

Arabs living in far-off places in the Arabian desert felt some difficulties to pronounce certain words in Quraysh’s dialect. So the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) allowed them temporarily to recite these words in their own dialect or even in some cases, they were allowed to replace these words with synonyms. These allowed dialects reached up to seven major Arabic dialects including the Quraysh’s dialect. These seven dialects are termed as Sab’atu Ahraf by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Imam ibn Jarir al-Tabri described details about this phenomenon in the preface of his Tafsir.

[Majmou al-Fatawa Ibn Taymiyyah: Vol.13, P.390-395]

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him):

Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Gabriel read the Qur’an to me in one way (i.e. dialect) and I continued asking him to read it in different ways till he read it in seven different ways.”

[Sahih al-Bukhari: H#3219]

Either out of ignorance or due to their prejudice against Islam, the orientalists fabricated a story of “Seven Versions of the Qur’an” based on these seven different dialects. Fortunately, shortly before his death the Prophet (peace be upon him) abrogated the six dialects and set the Quraysh’s dialect as a standard for all Muslims. This is because the Companions agreed to write the Standard Qur’anic Text (Mushaf) according to the Quraysh’s dialect in Hejazi script. Uthman ibn Affan (May Allah be pleased with him) issued strict orders regarding the Quraysh’s dialect, to unite the Muslim Ummah in one dialect. For his wise action, he is known as Jami al-Qur’an.

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