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The compilation of the Qur'an in the time of the caliphs Abu Bakar and Uthman


During the Holy Prophet's life, the Quran was preserved in partial volumes in writing, but primarily in the hearts of tens of thousands of the companions. But when a large number of Huffaz (those who had committed the entire Quran to their memory) were killed in the battle of Yamama, Umar bin Khattab رضی اللہ تعالیٰ عنہ, realizing the imminent danger of a similar future tragedy, persuaded Abu Bakr to take urgent steps to put the Quran together in the form of a single book. So, soon after the battle, Abu Bakr رضی اللہ تعالیٰ عنہ instructed Zayd bin Thabit رضی اللہ تعالیٰ عنہ to collect the Quran.

AbuBakr رضی اللہ تعالیٰ عنہ appointed a team of seventy-five selected companions to assist Zayd bin Thabit in this noble task but Umar رضی اللہ تعالیٰ عنہ contributed the greatest degree of assistance. Zayd used extremely cautious and meticulous techniques in compiling the Quran. He used all the methods available and did not include any verse in his master copy of the Quran unless he had received written and verbal testimonies proving its uninterrupted succession. In addition, the verses that the Holy Prophet () had arranged to be written under his own super-vision were still preserved by the companions, and Zayd collected them together to make the master copy. For this, a public proclamation was made to the effect that anyone possessing any number of written verses should bring them to Zayd. When a written verse was brought to him, he would verify its authenticity by the following methods:

Firstly, he tested its reliability against his own memory; secondly, Umar himself being a Hafiz assisted Zayd, as they used to receive any Quranic verse jointly; thirdly, no written verse was accepted until two trustworthy witnesses had testified to the fact that the particular verse had been written in the presence of the Holy Prophet () and finally, the written verses were matched with the collection that different companions had prepared for themselves. Each surah was written in separate folios and so the copy was composed of folios. In the terminology of the Quran studies, this fair copy prepared by Zayd is called the 'Umm' (literally, the mother' meaning 'the original'). The Umm had the following features:

In this, the verses were arranged in accordance with the order identified by the Holy Prophet (), but the surahs were not so arranged as they were written separately and the purpose of preparing this copy was to prepare an organized document with the collective approval of the whole Ummah (an exercise of 'Ijma'). The Umm remained with Abu Bakr رضی اللہ تعالیٰ عنہ and after his death with Umar رضی اللہ تعالیٰ عنہ. After Umar's martyrdom it went into the custody of Hafsah (mother of the faithful and daughter of Umar), and thus became known as Mushaf-i-Hafsah.

By the time of Uthman's caliphate, Islam had grown well beyond Arabia into the far-flung areas of Byzantine and Persia. The new converts of these areas would learn the Quran from the Mujahidin or the traders. Now the Quran had been learned by different companions of the Holy Prophet () with different readings as the Quran was revealed incorporating seven different dialects. So every companion later taught the Quran to his disciples in accordance with the particular reading. Now disputes arose among the new converts of the remote non-Arab territories. 

Some people began to insist on their reading as correct, and that of others as incorrect. On this, a noted companion Hudhayfa bin Yaman who was busy in Jehad on the Armenia-Azerbaijan front noticed such differences that were leading to disputes. He approached the caliph Uthman and told him about the possible danger of the division of the Ummah. He told him that the people of Syria followed the reading of Ubbay bin Ka'ab which was not familiar to the people of Iraq and similarly others followed the reading of Abdullah bin Mas'ud which would not be familiar to the people of Syria.

Uthman took immediate action and after taking the learned companions into confidence he declared that the Believers should unite on a uniform way of recitation. He got the Mushaf-i-Hafsah, the original copy prepared by Zayd and lying in the custody of Hafsah, and gave it to a team of four companions that consisted of Zayd, Abdullah bin Zubair, Said bin al-A's and Abd al- Rahman bin Harith. This group once again painstakingly prepared several copies from the Umm and made sure that surahs, too, were arranged in order.

Later other companions also joined the group of four. The group wrote down all surahs in their proper sequence since in the Umm they had been written separately. Thirdly, instead of one, the group prepared several copies of the Umm. These were sent to Makka, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Basrah, and Kufa and one was kept in Medinah. After this Uthman got all other copies burnt to ensure perfect uniformity. Uthman, for performing this great job, earned the title of Jami-al-Quran (the compiler of the Quran). At least two of these originals exist even today and may be matched word for word with any copy in the world.

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