On the discovery of Old Pieces of a Written Quran

Which one is more trustworthy?
Which one is more trustworthy?

We all shared excitedly the recent discovery of a few old pages of the Quran as University of Birmingham researchers, using carbon dating method, claim it is written at a time close to the death of the Prophet (pbuh). I thought I’d share a few important points as a reminder of how the Quran reached us and a warning against excessive excitement of such findings. I hope as we all get excited to see such an old written piece, we remember the effort of those who preserved the Book of Allah and do not be subject to doubt in case another ‘discovery’ emerges with text that is different 🙂

Here are my points in brief

  • Muslims have paid an extraordinary attention to preserve the Quran. Please see below for a list of examples of this effort
  • Muslim scholars do not consider a word to be part of the Quran unless it satisfies a few conditions. The two most important ones are:
    • To be written in a verified authenticated copy of the Quran that matches one of the copies distributing by the 3rd Calif, Othman (r) (see below)
    • It has to be recited (transmitted verbally) through a chain of many narrators in all generations until the time of the Prophet.
  • Anyone who comes up with a copy/piece (old or new) claiming it is part of the Quran, it must go through the same process. As a matter of fact, we all, unconsciously, started verifying the old copy against the one at our hands, and, interestingly, not the other way around. This is a sign that those of us who understand this process trust the Quran at our hands more than any unknown piece that is discovered.
  • Dr. Ayman Sewaid, one of the well known scholars of the Quran said (Arabic here) that Muslims’ way of verifying any text is not how old. Rather, it is: 1) who wrote it and 2) where did he copied it from. This guarantees that no one can introduce things to the scripture of Islam except that we discover it. Therefore, this found piece, even though it may very well be an old written one and a nice scientific discovery, represents no evidence to the authenticity of the Quran.

Rigorous Effort

These are examples of how Muslims preserved the Quran through generations since the time of the Prophet (pbuh)

  • The Prophet (pbuh) ordered a well-known group of his companions to write it down as he recites it to them even though writing wasn’t a popular skill or a known method of keeping text.
  • Many of his companions memorized the Quran and reviewed their memorization and writings with the Prophet on yearly basis
  • < 1 year after the death of the prophet, Abu Bakr (r) ordered the compilation of a master copy through a very rigorous process to guarantee its authenticity (not a single word is put into this master copy unless it is verified by those who write and those who memorize)
  • < 30 years after the death of the prophet, Othman (r) ordered copies of this mater copy and sent them to different locations where Muslims lived. He also ordered that all unauthenticated writings to be burned and that the Quran should only be recited/taught/copied from these master copies
  • Muslims continued to make copies of the Quran after these copies (and hence calling the text of the Quran “Othmanic Writing”. No copy of the Quran is official until it is reviewed and proved to exactly copy one of those copies Othman originally distributed.
  • Writing the Quran in different font or using modern standard Arabic is not permitted.
  • Millions of Muslims memorize the Quran in its totality and trace their memorization back to the Prophet through a chain of so many teachers/recitors.
  • Many committees, organizations, print facilities are established to print, verify, review any text claimed to part of the Quran in any form or medium including electronic media.
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