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Appendix A: Critical Analysis of the Reports which Mention the Collection of Abū Bakr (rta) and the Recension of ‘Uthmān (rta)
Dr. Shehzad Saleem


Following is a narrative of Sahīh Bukhari which mentions the collection of the Qur’ān by Abū Bakr (rta):

Mūsā Ibn Isma‘īl narrates from Ibrāhīm Ibn Sa‘ad who narrates from Ibn Shihāb Zuhrī who narrates from ‘Ubayd Ibn Sabbāq who narrates from Zayd Ibn Thābit Al-Ansārī, one of the scribes of the revelation: ‘Abū Bakr sent for me after the casualties among the warriors [of the battle] of Yamāmah. ‘Umar was present with Abū Bakr who said: “‘‘Umar has come to me and said, the people have suffered heavy casualties on the day of [the battle of] Yamāmah, and I am afraid that there will be some casualties among the Qurrā’ at other places, whereby a large part of the Qur’ān may be lost, unless you collect it. And I am of the opinion that you should collect the Qur’ān.” Abū Bakr added: “I said to ‘Umar: “How can I do something which Allah’s Apostle has not done?” ‘Umar said: [to me]: “By Allah, it is [really] a good thing”. So ‘Umar kept on pressing trying to persuade me to accept his proposal till Allah opened my bosom for it and I had the same opinion as ‘Umar’s.” Abū Bakr said [to me]: “You are a wise young man and we do not suspect you [of telling lies or of forgetfulness]; and you used to write the Divine Revelation for Allah’s Apostle. Therefore, look for the Qur’ān and collect it.” By Allah, if he [Abū Bakr] had ordered me to shift one of the mountains [from its place], it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Qur’ān. I said to both of them: “How dare you do a thing which the Prophet has not done?” Abū Bakr said: “By Allah, it is [really] a good thing.” So I kept on arguing with him about it till Allah opened my bosom for that for which He had opened the bosoms of Abū Bakr and ‘Umar. So I started locating the Qur’ānic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula bones, leafstalks of date palms and from the memories of men. I found with Khuzaymah two verses of Sūrah Tawbah which I had not found with anybody else [and they were]: ‘Verily there has come to you an Apostle [Muhammad] from among yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He [Muhammad] is ardently anxious over you [to be rightly guided]’ (9:128). (Bukhārī: Bāb Jam ‘u’l-Qur’ān)

This report cannot be accepted on the following grounds:

1. It is against the Qur’ān and some other Ahādīth which state that the Qur’ān was compiled in the time of the Prophet (sws). This narrative clearly says that it was the companions of the Prophet (sws) who collected it after he died. This is evident from the fact that, according to this narrative, the collection took place only after the battle of Yamāmah. Also, Abū Bakr’s remark to ‘Umar (rta): ‘How can I do something which Allah’s Apostle has not done?’ and the declaration of Zayd (rta) to both Abū Bakr (rta) and ‘Umar (rta): ‘How dare you do a thing which the Prophet (sws) has not done?’ point to this conclusion.

2. An astonishing thing which strikes any person who reads this report is that the companions of the Prophet (sws) were apparently not fully alive to the importance of the collection of the Qur’ān. If the Qur’ān had not been collected in one place in the time of the Prophet (sws) as alleged, it seems very befitting that the very first task they should have set before themselves after the Prophet’s death was to collect and collate their divine book. Instead, they, as this narrative says, only embarked upon this job after the battle of Yamāmah, which was fought almost a year after the Prophet’s death. Moreover, it is evident from the narrative that had ‘Umar (rta) not insisted on this collection, it might never have taken place. Abū Bakr (rta) and Zayd Ibn Thābit (rta) both were reluctant and ‘Umar (rta) had to really assert himself many times before the point could be driven home. All this of course is against common sense and very difficult to believe. Moreover, it questions the integrity of the companions, which is beyond doubt.

3. The report mentions that the real reason which induced the companions to collect the Qur’ān was the death of many reciters of the Qur’ān in the battle of Yamāmah. It is historically known that out of those killed, there were just 40 companions of the Prophet (sws), which of course should be no cause of any alarm. The historian Ibn Athīr31 (d: 690 AH) has recorded these names. Among these also, the only famous compiler of the Qur’ān to be killed was Sālim (rta).

4. According to this report, such a monumental task was entrusted just to one companion: Zayd Ibn Thābit (rta). Many other companions senior to him in age and companionship like the wives of the Prophet (sws), ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas‘ūd (rta), Ubayyi Ibn Ka‘ab (rta), Mu‘adh Ibn Jabal (rta), most of whom had witnessed the whole of the revelation period, were quite strangely not even consulted. Zayd (rta) was just eleven years old at the time of migration, and it is well known that he did not even belong to the Quraysh in whose tongue the Qur’ān was revealed and written.

5. The last part of the narrative is quite incomprehensible: the closing verses of Sūrah Tawbah were only found with Khuzaymah Ansārī (rta). Notwithstanding the fact that in various other texts of the narrative, the name Abū Khuzaymah (rta) is found, and while some texts mention that only one verse was found with him while others say that two verses were found, this last part is against the Qur’ān and established history even if its following interpretation offered by Ibn Hajar (d:1372 AD), the famous scholar of Hadīth, is accepted:

The correct interpretation of Zayd’s remark that he had failed to find the verse with anyone else is that he had failed to find it in writing, not that he had failed to find those who bore it in their memories. (Fathu’l-Bārī, 1st ed., vol. 9, [Lahore: Dāru’l-Nashr Al-Kutub al-Islāmiyyah, 1981], p. 12)

The written Qur’ān existed in its complete form in the time of the Prophet (sws), as has been shown in the main text of this article. It could not have been without these verses.

6. If this collection by Abū Bakr (rta) was a personal endeavour, then of course it loses its real importance, and if it was done at the official level, then we are confronted with another nagging question: Why did not the first caliph make arrangements to implement this as the official script? Apparently, he did not even order to make copies of it. Not even ‘Umar (rta), the second caliph, undertook this task.

7. Another question which arises pertains to the custody of the collected text. If it is accepted that the collection of Abū Bakr (rta) was done at the state level then the question arises: Why was the collected Qur’ān not transferred to ‘Uthmān (rta) after the death of ‘Umar (rta) ? Instead, we find that it was given into the custody of Hafsah (rta), one of the Prophet’s wives. Furthermore, ‘Uthman (rta) not even demanded it from Hafsah (rta) until after the against the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

8. Narratives which describe the Uthmānic recension (see below) tell us that this collection done by Zayd Ibn Thābit (rta) was faulty and incomplete since certain verses of Sūrah Ahzāb were not found in it, as was known later. In other words, even if it is accepted that Zayd (rta) was given some assignment of collection, what comes to light is that the written text of Zayd (rta), was quite unbelievably, not even checked for mistakes!

9. If the chain of narrators of this report is considered, it comes to light that it is a weak report. In the science of Hadīth, such a narrative is called Gharīb32. There is only one narrator in each of its first three links. Only Zayd Ibn Thābit (rta) narrates it. From Zayd (rta), only ‘Ubayd Ibn Sabbāq narrates it, and from ‘Ubayd Ibn Sabbāq, only Ibn Shihāb Zuhrī narrates it.33 In other words, for almost three generations this report was only known to very few people. This is quite strange keeping in view the gravity of its contents.

10. No text of this report is without the controversial personality of Ibn Shihāb Zuhrī (See Appendix D) in its chain of narrators. This of course makes the very origin of this report as suspect and questionable.

11. Two of the earliest books on Muslim history ‘The Tabaqāt’ of Ibn Sa‘ad (d: 230 AH)34 , and Tārīkhu’l-Umam wa Al-Malūk of Ibn Jarīr Tabarī (d: 310 AH)35 contain no reference to the events reported in this report. Ibn Sa‘ad36 gives an elaborate treatment to the life and times of Abū Bakr (rta). Tabarī mentions the revolt of Musayalamah with considerable detail37. However, nowhere do these two historians mention any collection of the Qur’ān under Abū Bakr (rta). The absence of any reference to the events reported in this narrative in these two earliest books of Islamic history is indeed very strange. The collection of the Qur’an by Abū Bakr (rta) was by no means an insignificant event and deserved mention if it ever took place.

12. The earliest book on Hadīth, the Mu’attā of Imam Mālik (d: 179 AH)38 also is devoid of any such report. Even the Sahīh of Imam Muslim (d: 261 AH)39, the celebrated scholar of Hadīth and a student of Imam Bukhārī himself does not mention this report.


Following is another report recorded in Sahīh Bukhārī about the recension of ‘Uthmān (rta):

Mūsā narrates from Ibrāhīm Ibn Sa‘ad who narrates from Ibn Shihāb Zuhrī who narrates from Anas Ibn Mālik: Hudhayfah Ibn Al-Yamān came to ‘Uthmān at the time when the people of Syria and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbaijān. Hudhayfah was afraid of their [the people of Syria and Iraq] differences in the recitation of the Qur’ān; so he said to ‘Uthmān: ‘O chief of the believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book [the Qur’ān], as Jews and the Christians did before’. So ‘Uthmān sent a message to Hafsah saying: “Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’ān so that we may compile the Qur’ānic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you”. Hafsah sent it to ‘Uthmān. ‘Uthmān then ordered Zayd Ibn Thābit, ‘Abdullāh Ibn Zubayr, Sa‘īd Ibn Al-‘Ās and ‘Abdu’l Rahmān Ibn Hārith to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. ‘Uthmān said to the three Quraysh men: ‘In case you disagree with Zayd Ibn Thābit on any point in the Qur’ān, write it in the dialect of the Quraysh as the Qur’ān was revealed in their tongue’. They did so, and when they had written many copies, ‘Uthmān returned the original manuscripts to Hafsah. ‘Uthmān sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’ānic materials whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Zayd Ibn Thābit added: “A verse from Sūrah Ahzāb was missed by me when we made copies of Qur’ān and I used to hear Allah’s Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaymah Ibn Thābit Ansārī. [That verse was]: Among the believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah (33:23).’”

The following observations and questions merit serious consideration, and unless sound answers are given to them, this report also cannot be accepted:

1. After the death of the Prophet (sws), sense and reason demand that the written and oral transmission of the Qur’ān would have received a great push at the hands of his successors. With more and more people entering in the folds of Islam, there would have been a great demand to read and learn the Qur’ān. The caliphs must have been alive to this demand and would have arranged to make thousands of written copies to be distributed all over their empire. Such would be the scale of this availability of the Qur’ānic text together with its true vocalization through its thousands of readers that any one who would read the consonantal text of the Qur’ān in a different manner would have stood corrected immediately. In fact, there was hardly any chance that such cases would even have arisen in view of the large scale dissemination of the Qur’ān. Ibn Hazam writes:

When the Prophet (sws) died, all of the Arabian peninsula had embraced Islam from the Red Sea in the west passing through the shores of Yemen to the Persian Gulf in the east and from the Persian Gulf passing through Euphrates along the borders of Syria back to the Red Sea. There are so many cities and places in the Arabia that only the Almighty knows their true number. For example, there is Yemen, Bahrain, Amman, Najd, the two peaks of the Tay tribe, the lands of Mudar, Rabi‘ah, Qudā‘ah, Tā’if, Makkah. In short, all these areas had embraced Islam and there was no city, town or settlement without a mosque. In all these mosques, the Qur’ān was read in the five prayers and the Qur’ān was taught to men, women and children. It was also written. At the death of the Prophet (sws), there was no difference of any sort between the Muslims. All the Muslims were united and were on the same set of beliefs. Then Abū Bakr became the caliph and remained in office for two and a half years. He waged wars against Rome and Persia. He conquered Yamāmah and thereby the number of people who knew the Qur’ān increased. Many people like Ubayyi, ‘Uthmān, ‘Umar, ‘Ali, Zayd, Abū Zayd and Ibn Mas‘ūd besides a host of others had already compiled the Qur’ān. Not a single city was without written copies of the Qur’ān …. Then Abū Bakr died and ‘Umar became the caliph. He conquered Persia, Syria, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula. In all these Muslim territories, mosques were built and copies of the Qur’ān written. The Qur’ān continued to be read and taught to the younger generation in the schools of religious instruction. This state of affairs continued for ten years and some months. There were no differences between the Muslims and they were united on one faith. There were not less than one hundred thousand copies of the Qur’ān in areas like Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and in other areas between them. Then ‘Uthmān became the caliph and many new territories were conquered and everything received a further impetus. Such was the quantity of the copies of the Qur’ān, that no one could have counted them. This state of unity continued till the death of ‘Uthmān which is 12 years from the time Abū Bakr became the Caliph. (Ibn Hazam, Al-Fasal fi’l-Milal wa al-Ahwā wa al-Nahal, 1st ed., vol. 1, [Maktabah al-Salām], pp. 66-7)

In the light of this, it is difficult to imagine that any difference such as the one referred to in this report would have arisen and become a cause of such great alarm.

2. Even if it is accepted that some differences had arisen in reading the Qur’ān at one place, the only step needed was to send written copies of the Qur’ān to that place. With the Qur’ān already found in great numbers all over the empire, what was the need to send its copies to other places like Basrah, Makkah Bahrain and Yemen? Can it be believed that officially written copies were only sent in the various territories of the empire after people in one small part had begun to differ? Can it be accepted that ‘Uthmān (rta) and his predecessors never thought of this all important task prior to this?

3. It is known that the Qur’ān was revealed and written in the dialect of the Quraysh. In this report, quite strangely, ‘Uthmān (rta) is seen instructing Zayd (rta) (who himself did not belong to the Quraysh) and the others to make copies in the dialect of the Quraysh in case of any difference. If the version from which the Qur’ān was to be copied was already written in the dialect of the Quraysh, no difference could have arisen. Even if any difference would have arisen, how could the view of Zayd (rta) be forsaken since it was his script which the first two Caliphs had already accepted. Moreover, what was the need of forming a committee to correct Zayd (rta), since the original was already written by him and he was just required to make its copies?

4. Once again we are confronted with some missing verses in this narrative. This time it is some verses of Sūrah Ahzāb40. At this second instance of writing, Zayd (rta) is reported to have remembered them. One can only wonder what more could be attributed to him had he been given a third chance of writing down the Qur’ān.

5. If the chain of narrators of this narrative is considered, it comes to light that this report is also Gharīb. There is only one narrator in each of its first two steps. Only Anas Ibn Mālik (rta) narrates this report. From Anas (rta), only Ibn Shihāb Zuhrī narrates it. This means that for almost half a century, this report was confined to very few people.

6. Here again, no text of this report is without the controversial personality of Ibn Shihāb Zuhrī (See Appendix D), in its chain of narrators. Like the previous one, the very origin of this report becomes dubious owing to his presence.

7. What further compounds the unreliability of this narrative is the fact that the narration of Ibrahīm Ibn Sa‘ad from Ibn Shihāb Zuhrī is doubtful since at the time of Zuhri’s death he was only sixteen years old and residing in Madīnah – a city far off from Aylah near the borders of Egypt where Zuhrī lived41. Consequently, Ibn Hajr records:

Sālih Jazarah says: His Ahādīth narrated from Zuhrī are not [as secure as] those from Ibn Ishāq since he was very young when he heard Ahādīth from Zuhrī. (Ibn Hajar, Tahdhību’l-Tahdhīb, 1st ed., vol. 1, [Beirut: Dāru’l-Ma‘rifah, 1996], p. 142)

8. Like the previous one, the events reported in this report find no mention in the two earliest works on Muslim history ‘The Tabaqāt’ of Ibn Sa‘ad (d: 230 AH), and Tārīkhu’l-Umam wa Al-Malūk of Ibn Jarīr Tabarī (d: 310 AH). Consequently, while Ibn Sa‘ad records in detail the life and achievements of Zayd Ibn Thābit (rta), nowhere in it does he mention that Zayd (rta) was instrumental in making the copies of the Qur’ān at the behest of Abū Bakr (rta)42. Similarly, Tabarī43 mentions the battle at the fronts of Armenia and Azerbaijan with some detail but does not recount that any difference in reading the Qur’ān had arisen; he also does not give any reference to the ‘Uthmānic redaction. The absence of any reference to the events reported in this narrative in these two earliest books of Islamic history is indeed very strange. These were by no means insignificant events and deserved mention if they ever occurred.

9. Again, the Mu’attā of Imam Mālik (d: 179 AH) and the Sahīh of Imam Muslim (d: 261 AH), also are devoid of any such report.


31. Ibn Athīr, Al-Kāmil Fi’l-Tārīkh, 1st ed, vol. 2, [Beirut: Dar Beirut, 1965], pp. 366-7. See also (i) Tamannā ‘Imādī, Jam‘u’l-Qur’ān, [Karachi: Al-Rahmān Publishing Trust, 1994], ps. 128-130 and (ii) Muftī ‘Abdu’l Latīf Rahmānī, Tārīkhu’l-Qur’ān, 1st ed., [Lahore: Progressive Books], p. 129.

32. See (Ahmad Muhammad Shākir, Al-Bā‘is al-Hathīth Sharah Ikhtisāru’l- ‘Ulūm al-Hadīth (Ibn Kathīr) 3rd ed., [Cairo: Dāru’l-Turāth, 1979], p. 141.

33. For more details see Tamannā ‘Imādī, Jam‘u’l-Qur’ān, [Karachi: Al-Rahmān Publishing Trust, 1994], pp. 120-151

34. See Al-A‘lām, Zarqalī, vol. 3, [Beirut: Dāru’l-‘Ilm Al-Mallāyīn, 1992], p. 82

35. See Al-A‘lām, Zarqalī, vol. 3, [Beirut: Dāru’l-‘Ilm Al-Mallāyīn, 1992], p. 224

36. See: Ibn Sa‘ad, Tabaqāt, vol. 3, [Beirut: Dār Beirut. 1957], pp. 181-213

37. See Tabarī, Tārīkhu’l-Umam wa Al-Malūk, vol. 3, (Dāru’l-Fikr, 1979], pp. 243-54.

38. Al-A‘lām, Zarqalī, vol. 5, [Beirut: Dāru’l-‘Ilm Al-Mallāyīn, 1992], p. 257

39. Al-A‘lām, Zarqalī, vol. 7, [Beirut: Dāru’l-‘Ilm Al-Mallāyīn, 1992], p. 136

40. Some authorities say that these verses too were actually found at the time when Zayd had collected the Qur’ān in the reign of Abu Bakr (rta). (See Zarkashī, Burhān, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Beirut: Dāru’l-Fikr, 1980] p. 234)

41. See Ibn Hajar, Tahdhību’l-Tahdhīb, 1st ed., vol. 4, [Beirut: Dāru’l-Ma‘rifah, 1996], p. 156.

42. Ibn Sa‘ad, Tabaqāt, vol. 2, [Beirut: Dār Beirut. 1957], pp. 358-62.

43. See Tabarī, Tarīkhu’l-Umam wa Al-Malūk, vol. 5, (Dāru’l-Fikr, 1979], pp. 45-6.

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