Muslims are told and believe that the Quran they possess today is the very same Quran given to Muhammad over a 23 year period as the angel Gabriel revealed it. They believe the Quran to be the very words of Allah and thus perfectly perserved, because Allah would never let his own words fall into question. Not one word or punctuation mark differs from that which was revealed to Muhammad beginning in 610 AD.

This is quite a claim indeed. But is it true?

Before we answer this question, here are some claims made regarding the Quran, taken from Isalmic websites:

"The Quran has not been expressed using any human words. It's wording is letter for letter fixed by no one but Allah." - islamicweb.com

“The Quran is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad.  It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his Companions, and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during his lifetime.  Not one word of its 114 chapters, Suras, has been changed over the centuries, so that the Quran is in every detail the unique and miraculous text which was revealed to Muhammad fourteen centuries ago.” - islamicity.com

“Allah has guaranteed that He will protect the Qur'an from human tampering, and today's readers can find exact copies of it all over the world. The Qur'an of today is the same as the Qur'an revealed to Muhammad (saas).” - University of Southern California Muslim Student Association

" ... not expressed using any human words ... not one word of its 114 chapters has been changed over the centuries ... the Quran of today is the same as the Quran revealed to Muhammad ..." These are quite provacative. But are they true?

A Brief History of the Quran

When Muhammad began receiving his revelations he would appear to go into a trance-like state. Upon coming out of the trane, he would repeat or recite the revelation he supposedly heard from Gabriel. His close companions or inner circle of friends who were with him at the time would attempt to commit to memory whatever they heard Muhammad recite. They would also scurry about looking for materials on which to write the recitations: sticks, bark, palm fronds, animal skin and bones, and even stones.

It is important to remember the Quran did not come to Muhammad in one single setting, but at various times and periodically spanning a period of twenty-three years. During each episode of revelation, he had a different set of companions with him; it is inaccurate to suppose each of his circle of friends was with him during every episode of revelation. One subset would be around during one particular episode, and another subset during a different episode.

It is also important to note there was never a single source for the Quran during Muhammad's lifetime, despite the websites quoted earlier. Seveal of Muhammad's companions had their own collections of what they wrote down of his recitations, but never was there any attempt to collect these various sources into one written document called the Quran.

There were, however, men who were recognized by Muhammad as 'experts' on the Quran. These were men who were with Muhammad most often when he received his revelations and who had put to memory a great deal of the Quran. We see some of these names in hadith materials:

“I heard the Prophet saying ‘Learn the recitation of the Qur’an from four: Abdullah bin Mas’ud—he started with him—Salim, the freed slave of abu Hudhaifa, Mu’adh bin Jabal, and Ubai bin Ka’b.’ - Bukhari

"Masruq reported… I heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Learn Qur'an from four persons: Ibn Umm 'Abd, i e. Abdullah b. Mas'ud and he started from his name-then Ubayy b. Ka'b and Mu'adh b Jabal." - Muslim

Remember these two names: Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy ibn Ka'b. These were the two go-to guys regarding the Quran - the companions who had memorized the most of the Quran and recognized experts.

After the death of Muhammad

In the year 633, one year after Muhammad's death, the Battle of Yamama took place in which many of those whom had memorized the Quran perished in battle, and with them, their memories of the Quran. Nobody knows how much of the Quran vanished with those who died in battle, but we can assume from the hadith it was a significant amount. Consider the following narrations:

"It is reported from Ismail ibn Ibrahim from Ayyub from Naafi from Ibn Umar who said: "Let none of you say 'I have acquired the whole of the Qur'an'. How does he know what all of it is when much of the Qur'an has disappeared? Rather let him say 'I have acquired what has survived.'" (as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an)

“Zuhrï reports, ‘We have heard that many Qur’än passages were revealed but that those who had memorised them fell in the Yemäma fighting. Those passages had not been written down and, following the deaths of those who knew them, were no longer known; nor had Abü Bakr, nor ‘Umar nor ‘Uthmän as yet collected the texts of the Qur’än. Those lost passages were not to be found with anyone after the deaths of those who had memorised them. This, I understand, was one of the considerations which impelled them to pursue the Qur’än during the reign of Abü Bakr, committing it to sheets for fear that there should perish in further theatres of war men who bore much of the Qur’än which they would take to their grave with them on their fall, and which, with their passing, would not be found with any other.” - Al-Sijistänï, ‘Abd Alläh b.Sulaymän b.al-Ash‘ath, Abü Bakr Ibn Abï Däwüd's Kitäb al–Masähif

Abu Bakr, the first caliph after Muhammad's death, recognized a problem: a portion of the Quran had disappeared on the battlefield. In order to preserve what remained, he ordered the collection of the Quran into a written form, from the memories of those who still lived and had memorized it, and from the various materials on which it had been written.

Now step into the sandals of Abu Bakr for a moment. If you wanted to have the Quran collected into an authoritative written form, who would you choose for that task? One would think Abu Bakr would have chosen for the task someone whom was recognized as an expert on the Quran from Muhammad's own lips, one of his go-to guys such as Ibn Mas'ud or Ubayy ibn Ka'b. Instead, the task was relegated to Zayd ibn Thabit, a secretary for Muhammad who used to write parts of the Quran but was never recognized as an authority in any way. According to tradition, Zayd thought the task he was given was next to impossible:

Narrated Zaid bin Thabit:
Abu Bakr As-Siddiq sent for me when the people! of Yamama had been killed (i.e., a number of the Prophet's Companions who fought against Musailama). (I went to him) and found 'Umar bin Al-Khattab sitting with him. Abu Bakr then said (to me), "Umar has come to me and said: "Casualties were heavy among the Qurra' of the! Qur'an (i.e. those who knew the Quran by heart) on the day of the Battle of Yalmama, and I am afraid that more heavy casualties may take place among the Qurra' on other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be lost. Therefore I suggest, you (Abu Bakr) order that the Qur'an be collected." I said to 'Umar, "How can you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?"
 
... By Allah If they had ordered me to shift one of the mountains, it would not have been heavier for me than this ordering me to collect the Qur'an. Then I said to Abu Bakr, "How will you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" Abu Bakr replied, "By Allah, it is a good project." Abu Bakr kept on urging me to accept his idea until Allah opened my chest for what He had opened the chests of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. So I started looking for the Qur'an and collecting it from (what was written on) palmed stalks, thin white stones and also from the men who knew it by heart ...  - Bukhari, Book 6, vol 61, hadith 509

Two things stand out in the narration above. First, Zayd questioned the legitimacy of compiling the Quran into one written form: "How can you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" Thus, it is clear the Quran was never written down into one unified form during the lifetime of Muhammad and cross-checked yearly, as Muslim apologists want us to believe. Second, he recognized the enormity of the task: "If they had ordered me to shift one of the mountains, it would not have been heavier for me." Given these two statements, it seems highly unlikely that Zayd was able, or even desired to, collect the Quran into an authoritative written form. Never the less, he did as asked, collected the Quran from both the memories of those who had memorized it and collected the other written materials into one written form, which was then given to Hafsa.

Quelling a civil war

Uthman ibn Affan, the third caliph after Muhammad, faced a virtual civil war within the Islamic empire. By his time Islam had spread up into the Levant, into Syria, and across today's Iraq and Iran, as well as beginning its move across north Africa. But the major population centers were fighting among one another over differences in the Qurans they possessed. And the differences apparently were quite significant. Consider the following:

  • The collection of Ubayy Ibn Ka'b became the de facto standard in the region of Syria. He wrote his collection prior to his death in 649 and his Quran contained 116 chapters, compared to the 114 chapters of today's standard Quran. It had an extra two chapters.
  • The Quran of Ibn Mas'ud became the standard in the area of Kufa, Iraq and contained only 111 chapters, missing Sura 1, 113, and 114 of today's standard Quran.

Collections from other of Muhammad's companions had become the standard elsewhere. The differences between these various manuscripts of the Quran led to significant strife.

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 'Uthman, "O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) 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 AzZubair, Said 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 Qur'an, 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. - Bukhari, Book 6, vol 61, hadith 510

Uthman solved the civil war by recalling the compilation of Zayd Ibn Thabit of some twenty years earlier, orders it to be revised by a committee of four, and copies then made and distributed out to the various regions with orders to destroy any variant copies of the Quran they possessed. Notice: The fighting was over differences in the text itself; they were reciting the Quran differently because each region had a Quran that differed in its text. In fact, before ordering the standardization of Hafsa's manuscript (compiled by Zayd Ibn Thabit), Uthman made the following pronouncement:

"Your prophet was just taken fifteen years ago, and you already disagree about the Qur'an's text itself?"

Reactions to Uthman's Order

Some of Muhammad's companions were not amused with the order from Uthman to burn their Quran manuscripts and standardize on the one chosen by him. Ibn Mas'ud, whom Muhammad singled out as an authority, said this when given the order by Uthman to burn the Quran he complied:

"I acquired directly from the messenger of Allah (saw) seventy surahs when Zaid was still a childish youth - must I now forsake what I acquired directly from the messenger of Allah?" (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p.15).

In fact, Ibn Mas'ud pushed the people of Kufa to reject the official Quran imposed by Uthman's decision. As a result, the people of Kufa stayed firm to the codex of Ibn Mas'ud until al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi came to power (The Qur'an Dilemma, p. 54)

Now, when faced with the question why Uthman ordered competing Qurans to be destroyed, Muslim apologists will usually say the order was given to correct a difference in recitation. The various regions were simply reciting the Quran differently; there was no actual difference in the text. So Uthman correct the recitation by offering a standardized text. This argument is absurd on the face of it. 

To illustrate, suppose in the United States we were to print a copy of a book in which appears a round, red, ripe fruit that some consider a vegetable: otherwise known as a tomato. Suppose the same book is read in the United Kingdom. According to the Muslim apologist argument, we might go to war with each other over the correct pronunciation of that piece of fruit. In the United States we would pronounce it toe-mae-toe. In the United Kingdom they would pronounce it toe-mah-toe. To use the argument of the Muslim apologist, we can simply correct the way the British pronounce the word by printing copies of our book and send a copy to them with the order to burn theirs because they are pronouncing the word wrong!

Raising Concerns

The actions of Uthman raise several serious questions.

  • Why did Uthman order Zaid bin Thabit’s manuscript, of which Hafsa had a copy, to become the official Qur’an? Surely, there were manuscripts from more reliable sources than Thabit, such as Abdulla ibn Mas’ud or Ubayy ibn Ka’b, both recognized as reliable sources by Muhammad himself.
  • Zaid bin Thabit was never recognized as a reliable source of the Qur’an. He was not even born when Ibn Mas'ud was reciting his seventy suras before Muhammad. How is it that Zaid's collection became the standard for the Qur’an?
  • Given the fact that bin Thabit had never memorized the Qur’an as others had, admits himself of forgetting verses in the Qur’an during its initial compilation, and is not a source deemed reliable by Muhammad, how can Muslims today be assured that the Qur’an they have is the same Qur’an that was revealed to Muhammad? Of course the answer is: they cannot.

The bottom line: because of the destruction of all Qur’an copies ordered by Uthman, no historical trail of documents exists to give the current Qur’an any authenticity.

Comments by scholars

The following are select quotes by scholars who have studied textual criticism of the Quran for many years, and address the Muslim argument that the Quran has survived intact without a single change.

""The Qur'an as it has come down through the centuries is not the single text without any variants that has been divinely preserved without so much as a dispute regarding even one letter as Muslim writers conveniently choose to believe. Rather it is simply but one form of it as it existed during the first two decades after Muhammad's death, the compilation of but one man, Zaid ibn Thabit, and commissioned for the Muslim world as the only text to be accepted, not by divine decree, but by the arbitrary discretion of yet another single individual, Uthman ibn Affan." John Gilchrist, Jam al-Quran

"The extent of the variant readings between all the codices in existence at the time of Uthman before he singled out that of Zaid to be the preferred text at the expense of the others is so great - they fill up no less than three hundred and fifty pages of Jeffery's Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an - that one can understand why the others were ordered to be destroyed." John Gilchrist

"One written form of the text has been kept extremely well, but the process for establishing and keeping this form of the text meant the destruction and suppression of variant written texts, and the initial and repeated and editing and improvement of the remaining text over a 300 year period to make the orthography of the Qur'an a complete phonetic system." Keith Small, Holy Books Have a History

"The extent of the variant readings between all the codices in existence at the time of Uthman before he singled out that of Zaid to be the preferred text at the expense of the others is so great - they fill up no less than three hundred and fifty pages of Jeffery's Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an - that one can understand why the others were ordered to be destroyed." John Gilchrist

Sana'a Manuscripts

In 1972 some of the oldest datable Qurans were discovered in the attic of the largest mosque in the city. Dr. Gerd Puin, an expert in early Arabic calligraphy discovered full pages and fragments from literally thousands of different Qurans, all different from one another. Below is a four minute video describing this find, with some comments after.

After giving Dr. Puin some time to examine the manuscripts, Muslims in Yemen became concerned about his findings. Keith Small notes, "Over concerns that Western scholars might find something detrimental to traditional Islamic dogma concerning the Quran, the following request appeared in the Letters to the Editor of the English language version of the Yemeni Times:

"Please ensure that these scholars are not given further access to the documents. Also, please rebury them or if they are not exact reproductions, please burn them. Allah help us against our enemies." (Small, Holy Books Have a History)

Why would Muslims want to prevent a critical analysis of some of the oldest datable Qurans discovered to date? If the Quran has been perfectly preserved from the moment it was revealed to Muhammad, one would think this discovery would have been more concrete evidence of such a notion. The Yememi Antiquities Authority has since locked away the manuscripts from further analysis. Why? What have they to hide if the Quran of today is the same one given to Muhammad?

Here's why: Ibn Warraq notes that in just eighty-three (of sixteen thousand) sheets of the Sana manuscripts, when compared to the 1924 Cairo text of today, Puin discovered at least five thousand deviations in the root words of verses never before recorded anywhere. (Ibn Warraq, Which Koran?)

Conclusion

In light of abundant evidence, we must conclude that the Qur'an in use today by Muslims worldwide is not and cannot be the same Quran given to Muhammad. Perhaps portions of it are. But for the sincere Muslims who truly believes the Quran given to Muhammad is the literal word of God, he can never hope to know what that Quran is. Much of it has been lost in early battles, another significant portion was lost when caliph Uthman standardized arbitrarily on the compilation of someone never recognized as authoritative, the standardized Quran was selected at the expense of other more authoritative versions, and early documentary evidence from Sana'a shows the existence of literally thousands of different copies of the Quran some 70 years after Muhammad's death.

Muslims have been lied to and told a fable. Muhammad's Quran does not exist today. They have been deceived into thinking it does. Indeed, many Muslims believe Muhammad's sole miracle is the Quran, and its miraculous nature is proved by the fact that Allah has kept it protected from change and corruption. But if the Quran has been changed, then it is no longer miraculous, and Muhammad's legitimacy is brought into question.

If you want truth, you will not find it in Islam. 

On the other hand, the Bible has withstood the test of the critics. It has been found to be historically accurate; in fact many schools use the Bible as a history textbook. Archeology has confirmed a great number of the events, places, and people recorded in the Bible, and not a single error has been discovered which could bring the veracity of the Bible into question.

If you want the truth, you need to read the Bible. And when you do, you will discover a God who loves you, who cares for you so much that He willingly became a man (yes, God can become a man; He can do anything He wants!) to live a perfect sinless life so He could become the spotless sin offering for us. Come to the real God, come to the truth, come to the Bible.

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