Many times, we are negligent of who wrote the Quran and why it was written. Answering this question verifies the authenticity of the Noble Quran as the word of Allah. Before we answer the main question, it helps us understand how the Noble Quran was originally revealed, was it in writing or some other form? From that point onwards, we may be able to properly understand why it was written, who wrote the Quran, how was the Quran written, and all the changes that were made in the writing of the Quran before it reached its present and contemporary book form.
In this article, we shall discuss the following:
- Was the Quran Revealed in a Written Form?
- Did Prophet Muhammad Write the Quran?
- Who Wrote the Quran?
- Why Was the Quran Written?
- How and When Was the Quran Written?
- A Brief History of the Writings of the Noble Quran
- Standardizing the Writings (Scripture) of the Quran
- Differences Between the Various Copies of the Quran
Was the Quran Revealed in a Written Form?
To better understand who wrote the Quran, we first need to answer how the Quran reached mankind. Rather, to be precise, how it reached Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). God Almighty revealed the Noble Quran to the Prophet either through the archangel Gabriel, through direct waḥy (direct revelation from the Almighty), or from behind a veil through which Allah speaks with the Prophet. These were the three forms of divine revelation between God and the Noble Prophet that the Quran teaches us:
God only speaks to human beings through revelation, [producing sounds from] behind a curtain, or He sends [an angelic] messenger to reveal what God desires, with His permission. Indeed He is All-Exalted, All-Wise.1
Therefore, we understand that the Quran was not revealed in a written form. No wood, stone, leather, or paper was used to reveal the Quran to the Prophet, unlike Prophet Moses, who was given stone tablets from God Almighty for the Ten Commandments.2 So, if God did not reveal the Quran in its written form, then did the Prophet write the Quran?
Did Prophet Muhammad Write the Quran?
We mentioned that the Quran was not revealed in a written form. This begs a question that if God did not reveal the Quran in the written form, then did the Prophet write it? To answer this question, we can look at it from two different angles. First, there is no part in the history of Islam that mentions that the Noble Prophet wrote anything, this includes the Noble Quran. Second, the Noble Quran itself signifies that the Prophet was unschooled:
الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ الرَّسُولَ النَّبِيَّ الْأُمِّيَّ الَّذِي يَجِدُونَهُ مَكْتُوبًا عِندَهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنجِيلِ يَأْمُرُهُم بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَاهُمْ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُحِلُّ لَهُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَيُحَرِّمُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْخَبَائِثَ وَيَضَعُ عَنْهُمْ إِصْرَهُمْ وَالْأَغْلَالَ الَّتِي كَانَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ فَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِهِ وَعَزَّرُوهُ وَنَصَرُوهُ وَاتَّبَعُوا النُّورَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ مَعَهُ ۙ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ ﴿١٥٧﴾
Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who has not been taught [by anyone] whom they find [evidences about] in the Torah and the Gospel which are with them. He orders them to perform good deeds and prevent them from [committing] evil deeds. He makes the good things lawful for them and he forbids the evil things for them, and he removes their burden and [limitations which are like the] chains upon them, therefore, those who believe in him, honor and help him and follow the light which has been sent down with him will prosper.3
The Prophet being unschooled is actually a miracle. A man not taught by anyone brings something so precious and Godly that all the learned combined cannot produce. And this presents one of the most solid proofs that the Noble Quran is the word of God and not of any man’s. So if God did not reveal the Quran in writing, and the Noble Prophet did not write it, then who wrote the Quran and why?
Who Wrote the Quran?
As the Noble Prophet narrated the verses from the Noble Quran to the people, there were companions around him who were literate and used to write the verses down in the modes and mediums available at that time. Those who wrote the verses of the Noble Quran had a high stature amongst4 the Noble Prophet and the Muslims. They were called “Kuttāb al Waḥy”, meaning “writers of the revelation” (Quran).
Regarding the number of scribes and who they actually were, there is a debate among scholars, and we will not touch on that debate as the opinions are truly diverse. The following are the most prominent companions of the Prophet who indubitably wrote the Quran:
- Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib (the cousin of the Noble Prophet and his son-in-law)
- Ubay ibn Ka‘b
- Zayd ibn Thābit
It is commonly agreed by all, that Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib was the most prominent writer of the revelation (Quran) and the first one to be as well. In addition, we have narrations that the Prophet used to give special attention to him and would have sessions with him regarding not only the mere verses of the Noble Quran, but rather regarding the meaning of each word and its interpretation.5 Additionally, the Prophet would have also informed Ali of the verses that were revealed to him (the Prophet) in his absence, as there were times when they were not together when the verses would be revealed.6
Why Was the Quran Written?
Now that we have understood who wrote the Quran, we should now look at why and how the Quran was written. The Quran was revealed to the Noble Prophet through the three forms of revelation mentioned in the first section of this article. To preserve and safeguard the word of God, many companions who were with the Prophet used to memorize the verses. Memorization of the Quran was, and is a virtue for someone, as it was highly encouraged by the Noble Prophet. It seems that it was the main way of preserving the Noble Quran (the final word of God) then.
However, the Prophet himself also commanded and encouraged his companions to write down the verses of the Quran. Of course, writing is a more reliable and persistent way of preserving and safeguarding the word of God. It is important to keep in mind that though the Prophet and the companions tried their best to preserve and safeguard the Quran, Allah is the ultimate protector of his word, as he mentions in the Noble Quran:
إِنّا نَحنُ نَزّلنَا الذِّكرَ و إِنّا لهُ لَحفِظون (۹)
Indeed, We sent down the Reminder and We guard it Ourselves.7
How and When Was the Quran Written?
During the life of the Noble Prophet, the Prophet would have commanded a few of his literate companions, known as the writers of revelation, as mentioned above, to write the verses of the Noble Quran as they were revealed. The companions wrote the verses down in the modes and mediums available at that time. This scribing went on from the beginning of revelation (gradual revelation) until the last moments of the Prophet’s life (when the revelation of the Quran was finished), a period of 23 years.
However, this writing was somewhat scattered and was not compiled into one book form. When the Noble Prophet passed away, the tradition of memorizing the Noble Quran was strongly upheld and was passed down from generation to generation. We still have this tradition in Muslim communities around the world. A large number of companions and those who came after the Noble Prophet had memorized the Quran. It is recorded that in one battle only, the battle of Yamāmah, forty (40) or seventy (70) memorizers of the Quran were killed.8 This raised a concern amongst the prominent Islamic personalities at that time.
A Brief History of the Writings of the Noble Quran
As the Noble Prophet taught the Noble Quran to his companions, the writers of the revelation would write the verses down and preserve them, other than those who used to memorize it. However, none of the writings were compiled into a book during the lifetime of the Noble Prophet. Importance was given more to the memorizers. After the Noble Prophet had farewelled this world, Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib made an oath to himself and Allah that he shall not come out of his house (participate in any social gatherings) until he finishes the compilation of the Noble Quran into a book for its ultimate preservation, and so he did.9 Therefore, he became the first to write and compile the Noble Quran into a book.
However, prominent Muslim forces at that time were reportedly neglectful when Ali eventually revealed his copy, and did not accept it.10 Time passed, and others also took the attempt to compile the Noble Quran, and unfortunately, all were rejected for political or opinion-based reasons.11
As the Muslim world saw the memorizers of the Quran were either martyred in wars or were passing away in numbers, the preservation of the Quran then became a concern, and the prominent Muslim forces at that time seemingly became less sensitive to the compiled Quran. The first copy of the Quran to be widely accepted by most of the Muslims was the one that Zayd ibn Thābit wrote and presented.12 From the various evidences of history, we understand that Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib took a great part in helping Zayd compile his copy of the Noble Quran. By the caliphate of the third caliph, ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān, other compiled copies of the Noble Quran were also adopted across the Muslim world.
Standardizing the Writings (Scripture) of the Quran
During the time of the third caliph, ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān, many other copies and compilations had been published, and the Muslims used to use them around the Arabian Peninsula. Not long after did the heads of the Muslim Nation realize that the Quran was being recited inconsistently, resulting in errors. This caused distress among the most prominent personalities in the Islamic world and so the caliph called for all the different copies to be banished and one unified and standard copy of the Quran was published to all parts of the Islamic world to combat all forms of malicious or accidental adulterations of the Noble Quran.13
The text of the Noble Quran was unified under the supervision of the Islamic personalities, and Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib also agreed to this proposition of the caliph.14 As the text reached non-Arab Muslims, who were increasing in number at a high rate, another climax arose. Similar letters were mispronounced, to the point that the meaning of the words was misunderstood due to the mispronunciation. And so, the copies of Quran then were once again called in by the caliph and another more improved version of the Muṣḥaf (compiled book of the Quran) was written and published containing dots and vowels to avoid confusion among the reciters. This Quran was the final and most accepted version.
Differences Between the Various Copies of the Quran
The different copies of the Quran that were written during the time of the Noble Prophet, and after him as indicated in this article, did not consist of any dispute or difference in the contents of the Quran. Rather, all the copies written during the 23 years of revelation (during the lifetime of the Prophet) and those that were compiled after the Noble Prophet had no difference with regards to the contents of the Quran or the verses or the chapters. However, the difference of order, or the interpretation that was included by some companions in their copies was naturally witnessed.
During the caliphate of the third caliph, ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān, the upgrades that took place with regards to the text of the Noble Quran, were compiled and published under the scrutiny of the powerful memorizers of the Quran and writers from the time of the Noble Prophet, and under the supervision of the most prominent scholars, including some of the writers of revelation. All had agreed to the compiled version of the Noble Quran as one that Allah had revealed to the Prophet and the Prophet had revealed to us, jinn and mankind. No linguistic or syntactical errors exist in the Book of Quran (Muṣḥaf) that we possess today and that is the miracle that Allah had promised us in the Noble Quran itself:
إِنّا نَحنُ نَزّلنَا الذِّكرَ و إِنّا لهُ لَحفِظون (۹)
Indeed, We sent down the Reminder and We guard it Ourselves.15
From the above, we understand that the Noble Quran was revealed to the Prophet in an unwritten format. The Prophet never wrote anything in his life, because that was one of his miracles (being an unschooled prophet, bringing something so Godly that no schooled man can produce), however, he would narrate the verses of the Noble Quran to his companions and they would write them and/or memorize them. The Quran was written down by the companions known as “writers of the revelation” during the period of twenty-three (23) years, until the last moments of the Noble Prophet’s life. The first and undebated person to write the Noble Quran was Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib, and he was the first to compile the Noble Quran into a book form. However, the compilation that was more widely accepted was the one that Zayd ibn Thābit with the help of Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib presented to the Muslims at that time.
- Quran 42:51 (Foroutan).
- Cf. Quran 7:145, 150, 154.
- Quran 7:157 (Foroutan).
- History of the Writing of the Quran, p. 22.
- Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 89, p. 97.
- Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 89, p. 125.
- Quran 15:9 (Foroutan).
- Al-Bayan, p. 254.
- Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 89, p. 52.
- Ma‘rifat, Quranic Sciences, p. 110.
- Al-Itqan vol. 1, p. 57.
- Irshad al-Sari Fi Sharh al-Bukhari, v. 7, p. 449.
- Ma‘rifat, Quranic Sciences, p. 124.
- Ma‘rifat, Quranic Sciences, p. 125.
- Quran 15:9 (Foroutan).