Preservation and Compilation of the Qur’ān pt. 3: The Era of ‘Uthmān

During the Caliphate of ‘Uthman, Islam had spread far and wide, and the differences of recitation spread as well leading to a lot of confusion.

Preservation and Compilation of the Qur’ān pt. 3: The Era of ‘Uthmān

During the Caliphate of ‘Uthman (ra), Islam had spread far and wide, reaching North West Africa to the West and Iran to the East. The new Muslims of these lands would learn Islam generally and Qurʾān specifically from the Muslim armies, traders, and teachers who came into contact with them. During the early days of the expansion of Islam, Qurʾānic learning and teaching was complicated because it was revealed in “seven recitations”. Different companions (ra) learned the Qurʾān from the Prophet ﷺ in different recitations. These companions then taught it to their students according to the recitation they learned. These companions and their students went to different lands and would teach the recitation they learned. For example, the people of Syria used to read according to the recitation of Ubayy ibn Ka’b (ra) and the people of Kufa read according to the recitation of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ūd (ra). With the spread of Islam, the differences of recitation spread as well. Knowledge of these different recitations was not well known in the new lands, so it started leading to a lot of confusion. It reached to such an extent that people started disputing and arguing with another about the correct recitation of the Qurʾān.

This concern was brought to the attention of ‘Uthman (ra) who also sensed this was becoming an issue. The incident that led to ‘Uthman’s decision to compile a standard copy of the Qurʾān is narrated by Hudhaifa ibn Yamān (ra).

Hudhaifa (ra) noticed that differences were arising amongst people while he was on a military campaign in Azerbaijan. He returned to Madinah and went straight to ‘Uthman (ra) and said: “O Leader of the Believers! Before this nation falls prey to dissension about the Book of Allāh, like the Jews and Christians, you must do something.” ‘Uthman (ra) asked, “What is the matter?” He replied, “I was on a military mission on the Armenian front where I saw that the recitation of the people of Syria, who follow that of Ubayy ibn Ka‘b (ra), was not known to the people of Iraq. Similarly, the people of Iraq, who follow the recitation of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ūd (ra), had not heard of the recitation of the people of Syria. As a result, they call each other unbelievers.”

In response to this concern, ‘Uthman (ra) called a meeting of the elder Companions and consulted with them. He said, “I have been informed that there are people who say to each other: ‘My recitation is better than yours,’ and this may be carried to the limits of blasphemy (disbelief). What is your opinion on this matter?” They asked him what he thought. He said, “My opinion is that we should unite everyone on a single transcription so that no difference or division may occur.” The Companions approved and supported his view.

‘Uthman (ra) gathered the people together and addressed them by saying, “You all live so close to me in Madinah and yet repudiate each other and differ with one another in respect of the recitations of the Qurʾān. It is obvious, therefore, that those who are far away from me must be falsifying and disapproving each other much more vehemently. Therefore, let everyone join together to prepare a copy of the Qurʾān to follow that should be obligatory for all.”[1]

To carry out this task, ‘Uthman (ra) appointed four companions: Zaid ibn Thābit, ‘Abdullah ibn Zubair, Sa‘īd ibn al-‘Aas, and ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Hārith ibn Hishām (ra). He also requested Hafsa (ra) to lend the copy of the Mushaf that was prepared during the time of Abu Bakr (ra) so that they could use it to make multiple copies. This group of four companions, along with others, carried out this task carefully and methodically, producing a copy of the Mushaf that served as the basis for the one we have today.

They used the copy they received from Hafsa (ra) as the base. However, they did not solely rely on that copy. They adopted the same methodology that Zaid used during the time of Abu Bakr (ra).

This committee undertook four unique tasks. Firstly, the surahs in the transcript prepared by Abu Bakr (ra) were not in sequence. Each Surah was written down separately. They placed the Surahs in the sequence that we have today in one copy. This sequence was also taught by the Prophet ﷺ through revelation.

Secondly, they wrote the script of the Qurʾān in such a way that it incorporated the different types of recitations. There were no dots or vowel marks placed on the words so that they could be read in accordance with all the valid recitations. For instance, they wrote ننسرها so that it could be read as both ننشرها (nanshuruha) and ننشزها (nunshizuha) because both the recitations are correct.

Thirdly, they prepared seven copies so that they could be distributed throughout the Muslim world. One stayed in Madinah, one was sent to Makkah, and one each to Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Basra, and Kufa.

Fourthly, they checked their transcript against the transcript prepared during the time of Abu Bakr (ra) along with the personal copies of individual companions.

It was the concerns and efforts of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, and countless other companions (ra) that produced the copy of the Qurʾān we have today. Allāh ﷻ chose this blessed generation of people to carry out this task and used them to divinely protect His words. “Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qurʾān and indeed, We will be its guardian.”[2]

For in-depth reading on the topic check out An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an on Amazon.
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  1. Bukhāri, k. fadā’il al-qur’ān, b. jam‘ al-qur’ān, 6:99
  2. 15:9

By Shaykh Furhan Zubairi
Dean of IOK Seminary

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Preservation and Compilation of the Qur’ān pt. 3: The Era of ‘Uthmān

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