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Chronological Order of the Quran

Reader comment on item: [Al-Hudaybiya and] Lessons from the Prophet Muhammad's Diplomacy
in response to reader comment: Chronological Order of the Quran

Submitted by IZ (United States), Oct 27, 2006 at 11:00

The final order of the Quran was supposedly determined during the period of revelation, that is, prior to the death of Muhammad. Muslims believe that the order was established by way of Gabriel, the angel who revealed the Quran to Muhammad. For those who believe that Muhammad made the whole thing up in an effort to unite and lead his people, there are still several lines of reasoning to suggest that it was finalized prior to his death.

It is well documented that Muhammad gave his final farewell message to the Muslims during his pilgrimage to Mecca many months before his death (apparently he was ill and felt his death impending), and thus there was sufficient time to sort out such issues, rather than panic and simply list them in order of their length (though generally that is the order). Given that Muslims stress the importance of the Quran itself in their religion, it seems unlikely that they would let such an important issue go during the final year of their prophet's life, regardless of what one believes about them.

Furthermore, the Arabs of that time period took tremendous pride in memorizing everything, such as poems, due in part by lack of the means for writing, and so there was a significant number of followers who memorized the Quran, not to mention that "Quran" means recital, and so the spoken version was considered the "real version". It would make little sense for them to have different orders of arrangement among the reciters, though surely there were some missing portions because the community was rather large towards the end, and not everyone had direct access to new revelations.

The fact that the more gifted, committed reciters directly handed down the Quran by word of mouth for centuries, and to this day, there are people in very remote places of the world where the Quran has been learned by direct, traceable lines of oral tradition, with no interruptions by way of written text, which match today's written text, it seems likely that the Quran itself is unchanged.

Furthermore, the Muslims generally understood that the entire Quran was also written down in its entirety prior to the death of Muhammad, but it was not compiled on one form of medium until the time of Abu Bakr, a time which lasted only a few years following the death of Muhammad. It was supposely written on a cloth-like material that was fastened together like a book. Following Abu Bakr's death, this book was handed over to one of Muhammad's wives for protection, who eventually would transfer it to Uthman, the 3rd leader of the Muslims following the death of Muhammad.

After Islam began to spread, Uthman was concerned about the various versions of the Quran that were spreading throughout the land, not so much among the pious but among the general population, and it was at this point that he ordered the writing of 7 (some say 5) identical versions of the Quran by direct transcription from the version that Abu Bakr had written. This was supposedly performed by at least four original companions of Muhammad. Two of these versions of the Quran still exist today, preserved in museums in two different countries. Uthman ordered the burning of all other versions, and it was this destruction of other written versions, which may or may not have been different from the original, that critics often use as proof that the Quran was changed after the death of Muhammad.

Of course, none of this addresses the question of the primary source of the Quran - i.e. Muhammad's invention vs. divine revelation - for that is left for each individual to decide even if there was 100% certainty that what I wrote above was true. Nor do I have a crystal ball to proclaim it is true, but at least the possibility exists, no matter how remote, and so I think criticism against Muslims today should be directed at their own deeds and actions, not historical possibilities, so that the criticism is more productive. Same applies to other believers, Christian, Zoroastrians, Buddhist, Jews alike.



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