History has not always dealt kindly with Scriptures. The original Gospel of Jesus was lost in its infancy and replaced by the later works of anonymous writers. These are people who most likely never met Jesus and were merely recording the rumours and traditions that had been passed down about him. There can be no sharper contrast than the Qur’an, which has been blessed with rapid diffusion through the Arabian Peninsula during Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, peace be upon him. As we will see, the fact that the Qur’an in our possession today is identical to that which was originally revealed by God Almighty over 1,400 years ago is a testament to its miraculous preservation.
GOD’S PROMISE TO MANKIND
“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.” [Qur’an, chapter 15, verse 9]
Throughout history man has corrupted the divinely revealed Scriptures, whether by accident or intentionally. This was completely by the Will of God Almighty, called Allah in Arabic, He allowed it to happen because these earlier Scriptures were time bound and only served as temporary guidance until the coming of the Qur’an. Allah blessed His final revelation, the Qur’an, with something that was not bestowed on any of the prior Scriptures, by promising to protect and preserve it from any corruption.
One of the means by which Allah has protected the Qur’an is through the language of the Qur’an itself. Allah informs us:
“And We have certainly made the Qur’an easy for remembrance, so is there any who will remember?” [Chapter 54, verse 17]
It is estimated that there are at least 10 million Muslims alive today who have memorised the entire Qur’an in its original Arabic language. Many of these memorisers lead their Muslim communities in prayer five times a day, every day, in mosques throughout the world. These leaders of prayer are known as Imams and typically there is at least one Imam assigned to each of the estimated 2.5 million mosques throughout the world.
This is a testament to the promise made by Allah to protect the Qur’an. The Orientalist scholar William Graham stated that the Qur’an is perhaps the only book, religious or secular, that has been memorised completely by millions of people . Note that these memorisers include people of all ages, and the vast majority are not Arabs and don’t even speak Arabic as a language. How is it possible then, that they can memorise a book in a language that they don’t speak? This is down to the sublime rhythm and rhyme of the Qur’an which happens to be one of its many miracles. If every written copy of religious Scriptures in existence today were to be somehow destroyed then it is only the Qur’an that could be recreated perfectly, thanks to its mass memorisation. It must be pointed out that every Muslim of the estimated 1.7 billion Muslims in the world today are required to memorise at least some parts of the Qur’an in Arabic in order to be able to fulfil the obligation of the Islamic prayer.
Moreover, the Qur’an was revealed gradually over a period of 23 years, one of the wisdoms of this was to facilitate the memorisation of the Qur’an by the early Muslims at large. It should be mentioned that the revelations to the previous prophets were not gradual like the revelation of the Qur’an. Rather, each previous Scripture was given to the particular prophet all at once, for example the Qur’an informs us about Moses:
“And We wrote for him [Moses] on the tablets [something] of all things – instruction and explanation for all things, [saying], “Take them with determination and order your people to take the best of it. I will show you the home of the defiantly disobedient.” [Chapter 7, verse 145]
PROPHET MUHAMMAD’S ROLE
“And indeed, the Qur’an is the revelation of the Lord of the worlds. The Trustworthy Spirit [Angel Gabriel] has brought it down; Upon your heart, [O Muhammad] – that you may be of the warners.” [Chapter 26, verses 192-194]
Prophet Muhammad was tasked by Allah with memorising, disseminating and explaining the verses of the Qur’an as they were revealed from Allah to him through the Angel Gabriel. The eagerness of the Prophet to fulfil this task is mentioned in the Qur’an:
“Move not your tongue with it, [as it is being revealed O Muhammad], to hasten with recitation of the Qur’an. Indeed, upon Us is its collection [in your heart] and [to make possible] its recitation. So when We have recited it [through Gabriel], then follow its recitation. Then upon Us is its clarification [to you].” [Chapter 75, verses 16-19]
Here Allah instructed Prophet Muhammad that he should be patient and that there was no need for haste in memorising the verses, as they would be etched unerringly into his heart.
To continually refresh the Prophet’s memory, the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) would visit him particularly for that purpose every year. Here are some examples of narrations from the companions of Prophet Muhammad in this regard:
Fatima said, “The Prophet informed me secretly, Jibreel used to recite the Qur’an to me and I to him once a year, but this year he has recited the entire Qur’an with me twice. I do not think but that my death is approaching.'” 
Abu Huraira said that the Prophet and Jibreel would recite the Qur’an to each other once every year, during Ramadan, but that in the year of his death they recited it twice.’ 
Ibn Mas’ud gave a similar report to the above, adding, “Whenever the Prophet and Jibreel finished reciting to each other I would recite to the Prophet as well, and he would inform me that my recitation was eloquent.” 
INCENTIVES FOR LEARNING AND TEACHING THE QUR’AN
Below are some of the incentives that have inspired and motivated Muslims to learn and teach the Qur’an:
- They are the best people:
‘Uthmaan, may Allah be pleased with him, said that Prophet Muhanmmad said: “The best of you are the ones who learn the Qur’an and teach it to others” 
- The Qur’an will intercede for Muslims on the Day of Judgement:
Abu Umaamah relates that Prophet Muhammad said: “Read the Qur’an, for verily it will come on the Day of Standing as an intercessor for its companions.” 
- There are ten rewards for each letter a Muslim recites:
“Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah, he will have a reward. And that reward will be multiplied by ten. I am not saying that “Alif, Laam, Meem” is a letter, rather I am saying that “Alif” is a letter, “laam” is a letter and “meem” is a letter.” 
- The reciters of the Qur’an will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels:
‘Aishah relates that the Prophet said: “Verily the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” 
- A Muslim’s position in Paradise is determined by the amount of Qur’an they memorise in this life:
‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr ibn Al-’Aas heard the Prophet saying: “It will be said to the companion of the Qur’an: Read and elevate (through the levels of the Paradise) and beautify your voice as you used to do when you were in the dunyaa [earthly life]! For verily, your position in the Paradise will be at the last verse you recite!” 
- Allah’s mercy descends upon Muslims when the Qur’an is recited:
Abu Huraira reports from the Messenger of Allah that, “No people gather in a house of the houses of Allah reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves except that serenity descends upon them, mercy envelops them, the angels surround them, and Allah makes mention of them to those with Him.” 
The next section will address the question of how the Prophet achieved the momentous aim of teaching the Qur’an to each and every Muslim.
MEMORISATION DURING PROPHET’S LIFETIME
The first 13 years of Prophethood were spent in the Pagan stronghold of Makkah. During this time the Muslims suffered their worst persecution at the hands of the idolaters, and the Islamic propagation opportunities were restricted. In spite of these challenges and obstacles, there were numerous Muslim converts thanks to the recitation of the Qur’an by Prophet Muhammad. They in turn often imparted verses to their tribes beyond the valley of Makkah, helping to secure firm roots in the city of Madinah prior to the Muslim migration there.
After 13 years of persecution in Makkah, the Muslims migrated to the city of Madinah. With the help of the local Muslims they were able to establish a base. It was here that and spread of the Qur’an flourished thanks to the emphasis on education:
• Arriving in Madinah, the Prophet set up the Suffa, a school dedicated to instructing its attendees in the skills of literacy, providing them with food and a place to sleep as well. Approximately 900 Companions took up this offer. While the Prophet imparted the Qur’an, others such as ‘Abdullah bin Sa’id bin al-‘As, ‘Ubada bin as-Samit, and Ubayy bin Ka’b taught the essentials of reading and writing. 
• Deputations arriving from outlying areas were given into the care of the Muslims in Madinah, not only for the provisions of food and lodging but also for education. The Prophet would subsequently question them to discover the extent of their learning. 
• Upon receiving any new verses of the Qur’an, the Prophet observed a habit of immediately reciting the latest verses to all the men in his company, proceeding afterwards to recite them to the women in a separate gathering. 
• Literate prisoners of war could secure their freedom by teaching ten Muslims to read and write. 
The companions of the Prophet also functioned as teachers, imparting what they learnt of the Qur’an onto others. A plethora of evidence demonstrates that the Companions actively took part in this policy during the Madinah period. The following narrations represent only a fraction of the evidence at our disposal:
• Abdullah bin Mughaffal al-Muzani said that when someone migrated to Madinah, the Prophet would assign a teacher from the Ansar [Muslims that were native to Madinah] to that individual saying: let him understand Islam and teach him the Qur’an. “The same was true with me,” he continued, “as I was entrusted to one of the Ansar who made me understand the religion and taught me the Qur’an.” 
• Ubayy taught the Qur’an during the Prophet’s lifetime, in Madinah , even trekking regularly to teach a blind man in his house. 
• ‘Uqba bin ‘Amir remarked, “The Prophet came to us while we were in the mosque, teaching each other the Qur’an.” 
• Jabir bin ‘Abdullah said, “The Prophet came to us while we were reading the Qur’an, our gathering consisting of both Arabs and non-Arabs…” 
Additional evidence shows that companions travelled beyond Madinah to serve as instructors:
• Mu’adh bin Jabal was dispatched to Yemen to teach Qur’an. 
• On their way to Bi’r Ma’una, at least forty companions known for teaching the Qur’an were ambushed and killed. 
• Abu ‘Ubaidah was sent to Najran to teach Qur’an. 
• Wabra bin Yuhannas taught the Qur’an in Yemen to Um-Sa’id bint Buzrug during the Prophet’s lifetime. 
The sea of incentives and opportunities for learning the Qur’an, coupled with the waves of people involved in disseminating it, soon yielded a significant number of companions who had thoroughly memorised it by heart. These individuals are given the honorary title of ‘hafidh’, an Arabic word literally meaning ‘guardian’. Many of these names have been lost in history due to being killed in war. What the records do show are the names of more than thirty of those who lived on, who memorised the Qur’an and continued to teach it, either in Madinah or in the newly conquered lands of the growing Muslim realms:
Ibn Mas’ud, Abu Ayyub, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, Abu ad-Darda’, Abu Zaid, Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, Abu Huraira, Ubayy bin Ka’b, Um-Salama, Tamim ad-Dari, Hudhaifa, Hafsa, Zaid bin Thabit, Salim client of Hudhaifa, Sa’d bin ‘Ubada, Sa’d bin ‘Ubaid al-Qari, Sa’d bin Mundhir, Shihab al-Qurashi, Talha, ‘A’isha, ‘Ubada bin as-Samit,’Abdullah bin Sa’ib, Ibn ‘Abbas, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr, ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan, ‘Ata’ bin Markayud (a Persian, living in Yemen), ‘Uqba bin ‘Amir, ‘Ali bin Ali Talib, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, ‘Amr bin al-‘As, Fudala bin ‘Ubaid, Qays bin Abi Sa’sa’a, Mujamma’ bin Jariya, Maslama bin Makhlad, Mu’adh bin Jabal, Mu’adh Abu Halima, Um-Warqah bint ‘Abdullah bin al-Harith and ‘Abdul Wahid. 
It must be noted that these are not unknown individuals, they are all renowned companions of Prophet Muhammad and we have their biographical information.
CHAINS OF MEMORISERS
This legacy of memorisation has continued throughout Islamic history to this day. It is not just the core text of the Qur’an that is memorised, the rules and regulations for pronouncing each individual letter is also memorised. This ensures that Muslims not only recite the same content as Prophet Muhammad, but also in the same style (stopping points, intonation, ryhthm etc).
Muslims that gain mastery in this field are known as Qurra, which literally means ‘reciters’. Among them are some who have attained an ijazah. An ijazah, literally meaning ‘permission’, is a certificate used primarily to indicate that one has been authorised by a higher authority to transmit a certain subject or text of Islamic knowledge. This usually implies that the student has learned this knowledge through face-to-face interactions “at the feet” of the teacher. In a formal, written ijazah, the teacher granting the certificate usually includes a sanad (or chain) containing his or her scholarly lineage of teachers back to the Prophet Muhammad, a later admired scholar, or the author of a specific book. So in the context of Qur’an memorisation, it means that the memoriser has become a living link among the many links in the unbroken chain of memorisers going all the way to Prophet Muhammad.
Here is an example of an ijazah obtained by Sheikh Ihsaan Ibrahmin in South Africa :
Notice how we have the names of the Qurra going all the way back to Prophet Muhammad. Other information such as the date of birth, death and locations are also known. This information is critical for verification reasons and allows for the detection of fabricated chains.
The evidence for the reliability of this methodology for preserving the Qur’an is in the recitation of the Qur’an itself. In millions of mosques throughout the world, at least five times a day every day, these memorisers and Qurra who herald from different parts of the world and learnt at the feet of different scholars mix together and recite the Qur’an with one another. Any mistakes in recitation are immediately corrected by the congregation. And yet there is never any disagreement about the Qur’an itself. Truly a miracle!
Now you can appreciate why Muslims have certainty in the perfect preservation of the Qur’an. Not only do we have to believe it from a theological perspective, but we also know it to be true from a historical and experiential one.
NON MUSLIM SCHOLARSHIP’S TESTAMENT TO THE PRESERVATION OF THE QUR’AN
Here are just a few examples of non-Muslim religious and textual scholars who testify to the preservation of the Qur’an:
A.T. Welch, a non-Muslim Orientalist, writes:
“For Muslims the Qur’an is much more than scripture or sacred literature in the usual Western sense. Its primary significance for the vast majority through the centuries has been in its oral form, the form in which it first appeared, as the “recitation” chanted by Muhammad to his followers over a period of about twenty years… The revelations were memorized by some of Muhammad’s followers during his lifetime, and the oral tradition that was thus established has had a continuous history ever since, in some ways independent of, and superior to, the written Qur’an… Through the centuries the oral tradition of the entire Qur’an has been maintained by the professional reciters (Qurraa). Until recently, the significance of the recited Qur’an has seldom been fully appreciated in the West.” 
Leading Orientalist Kenneth Cragg reflects that:
“…this phenomenon of Qur’anic recital means that the text has traversed the centuries in an unbroken living sequence of devotion. It cannot, therefore, be handled as an antiquarian thing, nor as a historical document out of a distant past. The fact of hifdh (Qur’anic memorization) has made the Qur’an a present possession through all the lapse of Muslim time and given it a human currency in every generation, never allowing its relegation to a bare authority for reference alone.” 
TAKING THINGS A STEP FURTHER – PRESERVATION OF LANGUAGE
“Indeed, We have made it an Arabic Qur’an…” [Chapter 43, verse 3]
As has been discussed so far, the Qur’an has been preserved in both content and recitation style. To this we can add that the Qur’an has also been preserved in meaning. Why is this important? You can’t separate language from Scripture. As Allah stated above, the Qur’an is tied to the Arabic language. So if we were to lose the Arabic language, then we would also lose the Qur’an. What use is having the perfect preservation of the content of a Scripture if you have lost the meanings of the words it is written in? You wouldn’t be able to properly understand the Scripture, it would be like having a lock without the key.
Let’s examine the Judaic tradition for the sake of comparison. Hebrew was a dead language from the second century CE until the foundation of Israel. Ever since the spoken usage of Mishnaic Hebrew ended in the second century CE, Hebrew had not been spoken as a mother tongue. .
Even though the Torah was originally revealed to Moses over three thousand years ago, the first Hebrew lexicon wasn’t created until the tenth century  – some three hundred years after the Qur’anic revelation. They don’t have any dictionaries older than that. They have oral traditions, such as the Mishnah, where they studied the Torah and the meanings of words, but they did not have a systematic lexicography that the Muslims have. This idea seems to have been borrowed from the Muslims. It’s a known fact that in Hebrew studies, Hebrew scholars are forced to go to classical Arabic dictionaries to see what the Arabs had to say about the roots of words. This is because Arabic and Hebrew are both Semitic languages and share many words with similar meaning. This allows Hebrew scholars to get a more ancient understanding of their own root structures .
In fact lexicography is really an Islamic science and the Europeans learnt it from the Muslims. The earliest English dictionary is from the sixteenth century . The first Arabic Dictionary was created in the eighth century, not long after Prophet Muhammad who died in 632 CE . This ensured that none of the meanings of the words of the Qur’an have ever been lost.
Uthman bin Affan, a companion and close friend of Prophet Muhammad, is accused by some Christian Missionaries and Apologists of corrupting the Qur’an as he was the first to compile it into book form. They cite the fact that he burned some Qur’anic manuscripts as evidence for parts of the Qur’an being lost.
Before getting into a response, let’s first look at some important background information. During the reign of Uthman, selected by popular pledge as the third Caliph (or leader) of the Muslims after the death of Prophet Muhammad, the Muslim empire had rapidly expanded to the reaches of Azerbaijan and Armenia in the north. Hailing from various tribes and provinces, these fighting forces possessed a variety of dialects. Unfortunately, the Muslims started differing amongst themselves with regards to the recitation of the Qur’an. They began contending with each other, each regarding his own recitation to be superior. These Muslims were not companions, they had never met Prophet Muhammad, and therefore were not trained in the proper manner and etiquette of the recitation of the Qur’an. One of the companions who was present with them, a military commander called Hudhaifa bin al-Yaman, realised some action must be taken to prevent this occurrence on a larger scale. He therefore left Azerbaijan to report directly to Caliph Uthman. “O Caliph”, he advised, “take this ummah [community] in hand before they differ about their Book like the Christians and Jews.” 
After receiving the report from Hudhaifa, that very year Uthman resolved to end these disputes. Assembling the people, he explained the problem and sought their opinion on recital in different dialects, keeping in mind that some might claim a particular dialect as superior based on their tribal affiliations. When asked for his own opinion Uthman replied (as narrated by Ali bin Abi Talib):
“I see that we bring the people on a single Mushaf [with a single dialect] so that there is neither division nor discord.” And we said, “An excellent proposal”. 
Uthman next appointed a committee to oversee the task of compiling the Qur’an in book form. Among this group were personal scribes of the Prophet such as Zaid bin Thabit . Uthman commissioned them to manage this task by collecting and tabulating all the Qur’anic parchments that had been written in the presence of Prophet Muhammad during his lifetime. Once completed, the book was read to the companions in Uthman’s presence . With the final recitation over, he dispatched duplicate copies for distribution throughout the many provinces of the Islamic nation.
Not only did Uthman send the actual copies to each province, he also sent Qur’anic reciters to teach the people the correct recitation of the Qur’an. Zaid bin Thabit remained in Medinah, to Makkah he sent Abdullah bin Saa’ib; to Syria was sent al-Mugheerah bin Shu’bah; Abu Abd ar-Rahman as-Sulamee and Aamir bin Abdul Qays to Iraq. All of these reciters were well-known for their recitation of Qur’an. 
With the task complete, the ink on the final copy dry, and duplicate copies dispatched, there was no need for the numerous fragments of the Qur’an circulating in people’s hands. So all such fragments were burned. Mus’ab bin Sa’d asserts that the people were pleased with Uthman’s decision; at the very least no one voiced any objections. Numerous reports confirm this unanimous approval, including ‘Ali bin Abi Talib who says:
“By Allah, he did what he did with these fragments in the presence of us all [i.e. and none of us objected].” 
In the West, when we think of burning it has negative connotations, such as hiding evidence. The reader must understand that this is a common practice in Islam, as we can’t just discard Qur’anic verses by throwing them away in the rubbish, they have to be burnt or buried out of respect for the content. This act done by Uthman was not something new like critics claim, it was also done during the time of the Prophet:
“The Prophet commanded the companions, ‘Do not write anything from me except the Qur’an. Whoever writes anything besides the Qur’an should destroy it” 
Some critics may argue that with some manuscripts being burnt, we may have lost parts of the Qur’an. They would be correct had the only recordings consisted of written copies. However, as has already been shown, the oral tradition has always been the primary means of preservation of the Qur’an, and thanks to the large number of early Muslims who had memorised the entire Qur’an it was a trivial process to safeguard the compiled book form against corruption.
Whether or not the reader agrees that the Qur’an is divinely inspired, and this is a separate question that has been addressed in other blog posts, there can be no doubt that the Qur’an has been flawlessly preserved to this very day since its first revelation to Prophet Muhammad. As Allah tells us in the opening verses of the Qur’an:
“This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah.” [Chapter 2, verse 2]
Allah has assured mankind that this is the Scripture we can be sure of. And Allah is true to His word.
1. The History of the Qur’anic text From Revelation to Compilation by Muhammad Mustafa Al-Azmi.
2. An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an by Yasir Qadhi.
3. An Approach To The Qur’anic Sciences by Mufti Taqi Usmani.
1 – William Graham, Beyond the Written Word, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 80.
2 – Al-Bukhari, Fada’il al-Qur’an: 7.
3 – Al-Bukhari, Saum: 7.
4 – Al-Bukhari, Fada’il al-Qur’an: 7.
5 – Riyad-us Saliheen, Bukhari, Book 9, #993.
6 – Riyad-us Saliheen, Muslim, Book 9, #991.
7 – Riyad-us Saliheen, Tirmidhi, Book 9, #999.
8 – Riyad-us Saliheen, Bukhari, Book 9, #994.
9 – Tirmidhi, #2914.
10 – Muslim, Kitab Al-Dhikr, #6518.
11 – Al-Baihaqi, Sunan, vi:125-126.
12 – Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, iv:206.
13 – Ibn Ishaq, as-Seyar wa al-Maghazi, ed. by Zakkar, p. 147.
14 – Ibrahim Syed, Education of Muslims in Kentucky Prisons. Louisville: Islamic Research Foundation International.
15 – Ibn Shabba, Tariklz al-Madina, p. 487.
16 – Abu ‘Ubaid, Fada’il, p. 207.
17 – Abu ‘Ubaid, Fada’il, p. 208.
18 – Abu ‘Ubaid, Fada’il, pp. 69-70.
19 – Al-Faryabi, Fada’il, p. 244.
20 – Al-Khalifa, Tarikh, i:72; ad-Dulabi, al-Kuna, i:19.
21 – Al-Baladhuri, Ansab, i:375.
22 – Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, iii/2:299.
23 – Ar-Razi, Tarikh Madinat San’a, p. 131.
24 – Muhammad Mustafa Al-Azmi, The History of the Qur’anic text From Revelation to Compilation, pp. 64 – 66.
25 – Muslim Judicial Council South Africa.
26 – The Encyclopedia of Islam, ‘The Quran in Muslim Life and Thought.’
27 – Kenneth Cragg, The Mind of the Quran, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1973, p. 26.
28 – A Short History of the Hebrew Language, Chaim Rabin, Jewish Agency and Alpha Press, Jerusalem, 1973.
29 – Sa’adyah Gaon (892 – 942) a religious leader in present-day Iraq, author of the first grammar and dictionary of the Hebrew language.
30 – Kaltner, John, The Use of Arabic in Biblical Hebrew Lexicography (Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1996).
31 – Latin-English dictionary published by Sir Thomas Elyot in 1538.
32 – Karin C. Ryding, Introduction to Early Medieval Arabic: Studies on Al-Khalīl Ibn Ahmad, pg. 3. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1998).
33 – Al-Bukhari, Sahih, #4987.
34 – Ibn Abi Dawud, al-Masahif, p. 22.
35 – Ibn AbI Dawud, al-Masahif, p. 3; see also al-Bukhari, Sahih, Fada’il al-Qur’an:4.
36 – Ibn Kathir, Fada’il, vii:450.
37 – az-Zarqaanee, v. 1, p. 262.
38 – Ibn Abi Dawud, al-Masahif, p. 22.
39 – Muslim, al-Zuhd al-Raqaiq, #5326.