The Quran: from spoken to written

Good material here on the process whereby the Quran took written form as opposed to simply recitation:

Some of the Surahs may have been written down on any materials that came to hand by some of Muhammad's amanuenses, of which we are told he had a considerable number, as soon as they were first recited by him. The knowledge of writing was not uncommon in his time among the Meccans, for we are informed that some of the latter, when taken captive, obtained their liberty by instructing certain of the people of Medina in the art. Whether written down at once or not, they were instantly committed to memory, and were recited at the time of public worship and on other occasions. During Muhammad's lifetime frequent reference was made to him when any doubt arose with regard to the proper wording of a passage. Tradition mentions certain Surahs or verses which were preserved in a written form in the houses of Muhammad's wives during his life, and we are even told that some verses thus written were lost and never recovered. From time to time the Prophet directed newly revealed verses to be inserted in certain Surahs, which must therefore have already assumed form and have even received the names which they still retain. There seems, however, to have been no fixed order prescribed in which these Surahs should be arranged. Each formed a more or less independent whole. The task of learning the Surahs by heart was not only a labour of love to Muhammad's devoted followers, but it also became a source of dignity and profit, since not only were those who could recite the largest number of verses entitled in very early times to assume the position of Imam or leader in public worship, but they were also considered to have a claim to a larger share of the spoils than were other Muslims.

About a year after Muhammad's death, as we learn from Bukhari, the Qur'an was first put together in a collected whole. This was done by Zaid ibn Thabit, one of Muhammad's friend and amanuenses, at the command of Abu Bakr. The reason for this step was that 'Umar bnu'l Khattab, perceiving that many of the reciters of the Qur'an had fallen in the fatal battle of Yamamah (A.H. 12) saw reason to fear lest the Revelation should thus in whole or in part be lost. He therefore strongly urged the Khalifah3 to give orders that the scattered Surahs should be collected together and preserved in an authoritative written form. Zaid at first felt great reluctance to do what the Prophet himself had not thought fit to do, but he at last yielded to the command of the Khalifah. The story4 as told in his own words runs thus: "Abu Bakr said to me, ‘Thou art a learned young man: we do not distrust thee: and thou wast wont to write out the Divine Revelation for the Apostle of God. Seek out the Qur'an therefore and collect it.’ If they had imposed upon me the duty of moving a mountain, it would not have weighed more heavily upon me than what he commanded me to do in the way of collecting the Qur'an. Abu Bakr did not desist from urging me to collect it, until God enlightened my breast to perceive what 'Umar and Abu Bakr's own breast had made clear to the latter. Accordingly I searched out the whole of the Qur'an from leafless palm-branches and from white stones and from the breasts of men, until I found the conclusion of Suratu't Taubah (Surah IX., v. 129) with Abu Khuzaimah the Ansari. I found it not with anyone else."

From the phrase "to collect the Qur'an " it is evident that the book had not previously been formed into one united whole. His reverence for his master would naturally prevent Zaid from either adding to or omitting anything from the Surahs which were recited to him by many persons from memory, and in some cases found in writing upon the various writing materials which were then in use. The fact that certain circumstances most derogatory to Muhammad's claim to be a Divinely commissioned prophet are still to be found in the Qur'an is a conclusive proof of the scrupulous accuracy with which Zaid discharged the task entrusted to him. [...]

William Tisdale, The Sources of the Quran


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