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Answering Common Misconceptions

25. Are there different Qur'ans 

Question:

Assalamo-Alaykum. I am in a debate at the moment with a non-Muslim. He says that there are discrepancies between the "Yemeni" Qur’an!!! and the modern Qur’an. Can someone please help me show him the Qur’ans is the same everywhere? What about the so-called "Yemeni" Qur’an, can someone provide me with information? Also, he says that the oldest Qur’an we have is from the time of the Caliph Uthman, and is not the same Qur’an that was revealed to the Final Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Please help. Thank you, Jazakum-Allah and Salam

 Answer:

The problem with many of the Christian missioners, orientalists and non-believing secularists, who raise such controversies around the Qur’anic text, is their disregard (either intentionally or ignorantly) of simple manifestly living facts. ABC of scholarly work is to use the correct approach suiting the issue in question, and for that, to apply the right methodology fit to the realities at hand. Ignoring such basic principles, they erroneously jump around upon the facts to come out with wishful conclusions, presented and wrapped in an artificial cloak of scholarly research.

The Qur’an is not an obsolete text of an extinct civilization written in a mysterious language, that can be investigated only by expert archaeologists examining scores of stone inscriptions or ancient parchment papers written in a strange calligraphy. 

Neither should the history of the Qur’an be considered the same way as that of the Bible. The latter is a collection of old literature authored by generations of – mostly unknown – authors, as a mix up of history books, biographies of the prophets, visions, epistles, poetry …etc. The material in these books were, in turn, derived from earlier unknown sources translated from other ancient and/or obsolete languages. It was the church through its councils, several centuries after Christ, that selected and enforced these books to be the “Holy” Bible, from among hundreds of others written along 1600 years.

The history and nature of the Qur’an is so different as to be needless of re-investigation, re-discovery, re-editing or re-translation from ancient texts. Neither would any discovery of archaeological pieces or inscribed scrolls reshape our knowledge of the source and history of the Qur’an, e.g. as Christianity is now facing after the discovery of the Dead Sea (Qumran) scrolls, the Gospel of Barnabas, the Najh Hammadi documents … etc. Nor has it ever been modified, revised, corrected, re-written with amendments or deletions as was repeatedly done to the Bible editions up to the present. Further, the Qur’an is a single undisputed text irrespective of any other differences between the schools of thought or sects, whether the major Sunni schools or the Shiites. Precisely the same Qur’an has been memorized and recited ever-since its revelation 14 centuries ago, and everywhere on the globe. This is in contrast to gross disagreements between the various churches on the list of books and their contents in both the Old and New Testaments (apart from the extensive self-contradictions in each version).

The Qur’an, as revealed and as still recited: its language, structure, style, inner music and, above all, content are so unique to be possibly the handicraft of any human source. Being of such miraculous attributes, it was so impressing to the Arab-speakers, reputed for their literary talents and wit, that they so zealously accepted Islam. They could neither find, present or fabricate anything matching that text (even the Prophet’s own sayings). More importantly, such miraculous text is so uniquely designed as to be easily memorized in full, not only by the fluent Arabs but also by children of all generations, and even by non-Arab speakers. From the very beginning, the Qur’an was so meticulously memorized by thousands of the Prophet’s companions, who heard, memorized and checked their pronunciation and understanding directly with the Prophet. As Islam spread, the recitation of Qur’an was orally transmitted from generation to generation in precisely the same way as first revealed. There was not a single gap in history without thousands and then millions of people memorizing and reciting the Qur’an, in precisely the same identical manner sanctioned by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Not only that, but Qur’an was and is still repeatedly recited aloud in the daily group prayers, in night (sometimes all-night) prayers and recitations, in public gatherings, lessons and discussions since the Prophet’s time and to up to nowadays, globally around the clock. So, the Qur’an is an ever-live “audio tape - like”, an honest tamper-proof record.

Simultaneously with the revelation, scores of scribes, some on the instruction of the Prophet and some on their own, used to record and compile written copies of the revelation. The final compilation of the verses into their respective surahs (chapters) was finished in the lifetime of the Prophet, according to the directions and revision with the Archangel Gabriel (through whom the Qur’an was revealed).

The written records were kept safe. At the instruction of Uthman, the great companion who became Caliph only 13 years after the Prophet’s death, a committee of four of the closest companions (who were his scribes and were perfect memorizers of the Qur’an) were appointed. They compiled a master copy derived from the original collection kept in the Prophet’s household. Their work was publicly presented and checked with hundreds of learnt companions, as well as with their own kept written copies. No single dispute has ever since been raised regarding a single word in the master copy of the Qur’an. Six more copies were sent to the major cities of Islam at the time.

Yet, the authentic oral transmission of the memorized Qur’an remains the origin, the written a backup for checking purposes and not vice versa.

Coming to the Yemeni archaeological discovery in a hidden gravesite of “a mash of old parchment and paper documents, damaged books and individual pages of Arabic text, fused together by centuries of rain and dampness, gnawed into over the years by rats and insects. The sheets, written in early ‘Higazi Arabic, were palimpsest versions, very clearly written over even earlier washed-off versions”. Whatever be the outcome of its cross-checking with the ever-lasting all-age Qur’an, the results what significance whatsoever could this have to  the authenticity of the transmission of the Qur’an. Rather, the correctness of the text therein should be checked, purely for plain historic research, against the standard memorized Qur’an. Their unknown origins, i.e. writer(s), the exact time and place of their writing, the accuracy of the writer or copier, his memory, knowledge and sources of learning the Qur’an will remain open unanswerable questions.

As to the Tashkent and Istanbul copies, these are copies of the master copies sent by Uthman to the major cities of Islam at the time. It has to be recalled that Arabic calligraphy has developed gradually to the present. The present modern printed Qur’an replicates the same precise orally transmitted Qur’an. So, we should conclude that any claimed minor calligraphic discrepancy in an ancient copy of the Qur’an, whether of known origin (the Tashekent case), or unknown origin (the Yemeni case) bears no consequence whatsoever on the correctness or on the authenticity of transmission of the Qur’an we know.

We hope this would satisfy you queries. Write again if you need further clarifications. Thanks.

Related links:

Has the Quran changed?

Response to: Challenging the Quran

The authenticity of the Quran and the Bible