During the caliphate of Abu Bakr (ra) the entire Qurʾān was compiled into a single book. The era of Abu Bakr (ra) was marked with a lot of difficulties rooted in religious and political strife. There was a war against those who apostatized, those who refused to pay zakāh, and other major battles in which large numbers of companions were martyred. For example, during the battle of Yamāmah alone, over seventy companions who had memorized the Qurʾān were martyred. This created a great level of concern amongst the Muslims, especially amongst the leadership. If the Qurra (Reciters) continued to be martyred, some of the knowledge of the Qurʾān would be lost.
‘Umar (ra) brought this concern to Abu Bakr (ra) and advised him to compile the Qurʾān as a single compilation. Initially, Abu Bakr (ra) was hesitant to undertake such a monumental task, but eventually agreed to do so after seeing its benefit. He tasked Zaid ibn Thābit (ra) with the responsibility of compiling the first copy of the Qurʾān.
Zaid ibn Thabit (ra) narrated the entire incident. “One day, soon after the battle of Yamāmah, Abu Bakr (ra) sent for me. When I came to meet him, ‘Umar (ra) was present there. Abu Bakr (ra) said to me, ‘Umar (ra) has just informed me that a large number of huffādh (those who had learnt the Qurʾān by heart) have been martyred in the Battle of Yamāmah. If the huffādh continue to meet martyrdom in this manner, I am afraid a large portion of the Qurʾān may be lost. So, I propose that you undertake the task of the collection of the Qurʾān from different places. I (Abu Bakr) told ‘Umar (ra), ‘How can I do what the Prophet ﷺ himself did not do?’ ‘Umar (ra) replied, ‘By Allāh! It is for nothing but good,’ and he continued to repeat this statement until the light of its truth dawned upon me as well, and now my opinion is the same as ‘Umar’s.’
After that Abu Bakr (ra) said to me (Zaid), ‘You are young and sensible. We have no lack of trust in you. You had also been a regular scribe of revelation during the time of the Holy Prophet ﷺ. So search then for all the verses of the Qurʾān and collect them together.’
By Allāh! Carrying a mountain on their orders would have been a lighter burden for me than collecting the Qurʾān. I asked him, ‘How is it that you have undertaken a task that was not done by the Prophet ﷺ himself?’ Abu Bakr (ra) said, ‘By Allāh! It is but good,’ and he kept on repeating these words until Allāh gave me insight to adopt the same opinion held by Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. Consequently, I started searching for the verses of the Qurʾān and it was from the branches of date-palms, slabs of stones, and the memory of the people that I finally collected the Qurʾān.”
Zaid (ra) undertook this responsibility with the highest level of care and detail. He established a methodology to follow that had built-in checks and balances to ensure the authenticity of this official copy. Zaid (ra) himself was a hāfidh of the Qurʾān and a scribe of the Prophet ﷺ. If he wanted he could have written the Qurʾān from his own memory. Similarly, there were hundreds of companions who had the Qurʾān memorized and a number who had their own personal copies. Instead of relying on one of these, Zaid (ra) used a unique combination of all three. Through all three methods, he insured that there was both verbal and written testimony for each verse of the Qurʾān.
A public proclamation was made, calling for written verses of the Qurʾān to be brought to him. When a written verse was brought to him, he would verify its authenticity against his own memory. Then, ‘Umar (ra), who was also a hāfidh of the Qurʾān and is proven through reliable narrations to have been assigned by Abu Bakr to work with Zaid (ra) on the project, would test it against his own memory. Written verses would be accepted only if two reliable witnesses testified that they were written in the presence of the Prophet ﷺ. Through this precise and careful method, Zaid (ra) was able to compile a master copy of the Qurʾān.
In this master copy, the verses were arranged according to the sequence fixed by the Prophet ﷺ. The Surahs were not arranged according to the sequence we know today. Rather, each Surah was written separately in something similar to folders. So each Surah had its own folder.
These folders stayed with Abu Bakr (ra) until he left this world and were then passed on to ‘Umar (ra). After his martyrdom, they remained with his daughter, the mother of the believers Hafsa (ra) and were later used by ‘Uthman (ra) to make official copies.
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