Preservation of the Qur'an

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Muslims say the Qur'an has been perfectly preserved, but is this claim true? The textual integrity of scripture is an important topic in Muslim circles and will be brought up by both Islamic scholars and non-scholars alike. The Muslim argument says that the text of the Qur'an today is identical to that received by Prophet Muhammad. However, there are some problems with this argument.

First Problem

The most trusted collection of hadith and considered the most authentic book after the Qur'an is Sahih Bukhari but even within it's own book there is a contradiction on who collected the Qur'an.

Narrated Qatada: I asked Anas bin Malik: Who collected the Qur'an at the time of the Prophet? He replied, Four, all of whom were from the Ansar, Ubai bin Ka'b, Muadh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit and Abu Zaid.

Narrated Anas bin Malik:

When the Prophet died, none had collected the Qur'an but four persons: Abu Ad Darda, Mu'adh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit and Abu Zaid. We were the inheritor (of Abu Zaid) as he had no offspring .

If you cannot even agree on who collected the Qur'an then how can you even begin to claim the Qur'an is intact exactly how it was revealed?

Second Problem

We know from the hadith that Muhammad himself forgot parts of the Qur'an:

Narrated Aisha: The Prophet heard a man reciting the Qur'an in the mosque and said, "May Allah bestow His Mercy on him, as he has reminded me of such-and-such Verses of such a Surah."
'A'isha reported that the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) heard a person reciting the Qur'an at night. Upon this he said: May Allah show mercy to him; he has reminded me of such and such a verse which I had missed in such and such a surah.

Allah in the Qur'an says that even his messenger might forget certain verses.

By degrees shall we teach thee (Muhammad) to declare (the message), so thou shalt not forget, except as God wills.

In the below hadith we see that Muhammad's companions also forgot passages of the Qur'an.

Narrated Abdullah: The Prophet said, "Why does anyone of the people say, 'I have forgotten such-and-such Verses (of the Qur'an)?' He, in fact, is caused (by Allah) to forget."
Ibn Mas'ud reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Wretched is the man who says: I forgot such and such a sura, or I forget such and such a verse, but he has been made to forget.

If the prophet is forgetting verses then how can you say that you have the perfect unaltered word of God with you?

Third Problem

There are claims in the hadith that certain verses are missing. For example the 'stoning verse' for adultery. The present day Qur’an does not contain the penalty of Rajm (stoning) for adulterers, which abrogated the previous penalty.

Abdullah b. 'Abbas reported that 'Umar b. Khattab sat on the pulpit of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Verily Allah sent Muhammad (may peace be upon him) with truth and He sent down the Book upon him, and the verse of stoning was included in what was sent down to him. We recited it, retained it in our memory and understood it. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) awarded the punishment of stoning to death (to the married adulterer and adulteress) and, after him, we also awarded the punishment of stoning, I am afraid that with the lapse of time, the people (may forget it) and may say: We do not find the punishment of stoning in the Book of Allah, and thus go astray by abandoning this duty prescribed by Allah. Stoning is a duty laid down in Allah's Book for married men and women who commit adultery when proof is established, or it there is pregnancy, or a confession.

Al-Nurayn and al-Wilaya are two surahs (chapters) that are claimed to be included in the Qur'an by some Shi'ite sects. These sects would supposedly argue that Ali had a different copy of the Qur'an as compared with the third Caliph Uthman. However, these surahs are widely seen as fabrications in most of the Muslim world. Some believe these surahs to be forgeries, intended to increase animosity towards the Shi'ite Muslims in the Sunni world.

Fourth Problem

You have probably heard about the Satanic Verses incident where Muhammad tried to reconcile differences with pagans. There are reports of this incident in all major tafsirs to demonstrate this was an actual event during the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

Have ye seen Lat. and 'Uzza,
And another, the third (goddess), Manat?
What! for you the male sex, and for Him, the female?
Behold, such would be indeed a division most unfair!

Under increasing pressure and boycotts from the pagan Meccans, a weakened and precarious Muhammad accommodated the Meccan pagans by acknowledging the existence of the three pagan goddesses Lat, Uzza, and Manat, alongside Allah.

Ibn Ishaq

From Ibn Ishaq's "Sirat Rasul Allah". (Ibn Ishaq is the earliest known Islamic historian.)

Because of his love for his people and his anxiety over them it would delight him if the obstacle ‎that made his task so difficult could be removed; so that he meditated on the project and longed ‎for it and it was dear to him. Then God sent down 'By the star when it sets your comrade errs not ‎and is not deceived, he speaks not from his own desire,' and when he reached His words 'Have ‎you thought of al-Lat and al-'Uzza and Manat the third, the other',‎ Satan, when he was ‎meditating upon it, and desiring to bring it (sc. reconciliation) to his people, put upon his tongue ‎‎'these are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved.' When Quraysh heard that, ‎they were delighted and greatly pleased at the way in which he spoke of their gods and they ‎listened to him; while the believers were holding that what their prophet brought them from their ‎Lord was true, not suspecting a mistake or a vain desire or a slip, and when he reached the ‎prostration ‎3 and the end of the Sura in which he prostrated himself the Muslims prostrated ‎themselves when their prophet prostrated confirming what he brought and obeying his command...[1]


Al-Tabari was an early and prolific Islamic historian who also recorded the Satanic verses incident.

Then God revealed:
By the Star when it sets, your comrade does not err, nor is
he deceived; nor does he speak out of (his own) desire ...

and when he came to the words:

Have you thought upon al-Lat and al-'Uzza and Manat, the third, the other?

Satan cast on his tongue, because of his inner debates and what he desired to bring to his people, the words:

These are the high-flying cranes; verily their intercession is accepted with approval.[2]

Fifth Problem

We know from various sources that the third caliph Uthman ordered various copies of the Qur'an to be burnt because there were clear differences in the recitation of Qur'an among people of Sham and people of Iraq. The differences were so great Uthman and his companions feared future dispute about true Qur'an. (We are not talking about pronunciations, but the contents). So Uthman asked Hafsa for her copy and he ordered to make many copies of Qur'an and to burn and destroy all the existing copies of the Qur'an. Uthman ordered others to accept Hafsa's copy as the official Qur'anic text. This shows that memorization had failed to completely preserve the Qur'an (meaning recitation) in its original form but help of text was taken.

Narrated Anas bin Malik:

Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur'an, so he said to 'Uthman, "O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before." So 'Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa sent it to 'Uthman. 'Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, 'Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and 'AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. 'Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue." They did so, and when they had written many copies, 'Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. 'Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Said bin Thabit added, "A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur'an and I used to hear Allah's Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): 'Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.' (33.23)

Sixth problem

The compilation of the Qur'an was clearly a very human process involving trial and error, educated guesses, faulty memories, fallible opinions, disagreements, mistakes, ignorance, and bad decisions. And we can't forget, of course, the pile of manuscripts reduced to ashes by Uthman in his desperate attempt to destroy all evidence that the Qur'an hadn't been perfectly preserved. The early Muslim community left modern Muslims with a huge mess to clean up if they want to cling to the belief that the Qur'an was perfectly preserved as you can see in this hadith;

Abu Harb b. Abu al-Aswad reported on the authority of his father that Abu Musa al-Ash'ari sent for the reciters of Basra. They came to him and they were three hundred in number. They recited the Qur'an and he said: You are the best among the inhabitants of Basra, for you are the reciters among them. So continue to recite it. (But bear in mind) that your reciting for a long time may not harden your hearts as were hardened the hearts of those before you. We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara'at. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it: "If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust." And we used to recite a surah which resembled one of the surahs of Musabbihat, and I have forgotten it, but remember (this much) out of it: "O people who believe, why do you say that which you do not practise" (lxi. 2) and "that is recorded in your necks as a witness (against you) and you would be asked about it on the Day of Resurrection"

Other problems

  • Nobody has the original copy of the Qur'an standardized by Uthman.
  • The most trusted commentary on preservation comes from hadith written hundreds of years after Muhammad.
  • Early copies of the Qur'an did not have diacretical marks, leaving room for an enormous amount of discrepency.


The earliest found copies of the Qur'an do not have diacritical marks, and evidence points to 'trifling' changes made to the Uthmanic recension.[3] Multiple people collected the Qur'an after Muhammad's death. Differences existed among the various versions of the Qur'an before Caliph Uthman decided to burn all the copies except one. Muhammad himself forgot Qur'anic verses. Some verses, like the ones for stoning, are missing from the Qur'an we have today. We can thus conclude from Islamic sources that the Qur'an has not been perfectly preserved and today's text is not exactly the same as recited by Muhammad.

This page is featured in the core article, Islam and Scripture which serves as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about this topic Core part.png

See Also

External links


  1. Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, Translated by A. Guillaume, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, (Re-issued in Karachi, Pakistan, 1967, 13th impression, 1998) 1955, p. 146-148.
  2. Al-Tabari (838? – 923 A.D.), The History of al-Tabari (Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk), Vol. VI: Muhammad at Mecca, Translated by W. M. Watt and M.V. McDonald, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, 1988, ISBN: 0-88706-707-7, pp. 107-112.
  3. Taher, Abul, "Querying the Koran", The Guardian, Guardian News and Media Limited, 2000-08-08,,4273,4048586,00.html.