Published in  
April 5, 2024

The History of the Qur'an and its Sciences

Allah chose the Qur'an to be the medium by which He Speaks to us. Many of us grew up knowing that the Qur'an is a Holy Book with a bunch of dos and don'ts. But do we know what this Book truly is and what it entails? What is the Qur'an? How was the Qur'an preserved? How was the Qur'an compiled into a book form? What are the Sciences of the Qur'an? How did the Sciences of the Qur'an originate and spread? 

What is the Qur'an? 

Allah chose the Qur'an to be the medium by which He Speaks to us. Many of us grew up knowing that the Qur'an is a Holy Book with a bunch of dos and don'ts. But do we know what this Book truly is and what it entails? The scholars have defined the Noble Qur'an as:

كلامُ اللهِ المنزّلُ على نبيّهِ محمّدٍ ﷺ، المعجزُ بلفظهِ، المتعبّدُ بتلاوتهِ، المنقولُ إلينَا بالتّواترِ، المبدوءُ بسورةِ الفاتحةِ، والمختومُ بسورةِ النّاسِ.

𝘈𝘭𝘭𝘢𝘢𝘩'𝘴 𝘚𝘱𝘦𝘦𝘤𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘳𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘢𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘶𝘱𝘰𝘯 𝘏𝘪𝘴 𝘗𝘳𝘰𝘱𝘩𝘦𝘵 𝘔𝘶𝘩𝘢𝘮𝘮𝘢𝘥 ﷺ, 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘩 𝘪𝘴 𝘶𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘭𝘺 𝘪𝘮𝘱𝘰𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘱𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘣𝘺 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘥, 𝘪𝘴 𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘥𝘶𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘱, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘴 𝘳𝘦𝘭𝘢𝘺𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘶𝘴 𝘣𝘺 𝘢 𝘭𝘢𝘳𝘨𝘦 𝘨𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘱 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘳𝘶𝘴𝘵𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘩𝘺 𝘯𝘢𝘳𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘴 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘢𝘧𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘭 𝘪𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘥 𝘶𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘵 𝘣𝘦𝘨𝘪𝘯𝘴 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘚𝘶𝘳𝘢𝘩 𝘢𝘭 𝘍𝘢𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘩𝘢𝘩 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘚𝘶𝘳𝘢𝘩 𝘢𝘯 𝘕𝘢𝘢𝘴.

Let's break this down a bit more:

1. Allah's Speech: This means that it is solely the Speech of Allah Himself and it excludes the speech of His creation whether from humankind, the jinns, or the angels.

2. It was Revealed: This refers to strictly what Allah has sent down to Muhammad ﷺ and it excludes all the speech that Allah has not sent down to anyone and has kept to Himself. Allah's Speech is not limited only to what He has revealed in the Qur'an.

3. Upon His Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: This means that the Qur'an was solely revealed to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ  and it excludes what Allah has revealed to other Prophets such as the Tawrah, Injeel, and the Zaboor,

4. Which is utterly impossible to replicate word by word: This means that no one has the ability to come up with something like it. This is one of the greatest attributes of the Qur'an. No one can bring forth something like it in its entirety or even something as little as its shortest chapter.

5. It is recited during acts of worship: The Qur'an is Commanded to be recited during the salah and is recommended to be recited during other acts of worship. So this excludes the solitary modes of recitation (Qira'atul Ahaad) and the Ahadith al-Qudsiyyah as these types are not allowed to be read in acts of worship. Only what constitutes to be strictly the Qur'an is allowed to be recited in acts of worship.

6. That was related to us by a large group of trustworthy people one after the other until it reached us: This means that it was transmitted to us by a group of people from another group of people and so on and it is impossible for all of them to come together upon falsehood in their transmission of it to us from the beginning of the narration all the way to the end of it. The first group heard the Qur'an being recited from the Prophet ﷺ directly and related it exactly as they heard it to next group and so on until it came to us as it is.

7. That begins with Suratul Fatihah

8. And that ends with Suratun Naas.

[الفصول الحسان في علوم القرآن - عبد الله بن سيف الأزدي]

What is Ulumul Qur'an (the Sciences of the Qur'an)?

Think of the Qur'an as a vast ocean. The knowledge it gives is endless and it is up to the one embarking on the boat of knowledge to transverse its varying waves and depths. Ulumul Qur'an or the Sciences of the Qur'an is not one isolated science related to the Qur'an. Instead, it includes every science that serves the Qur'an or is based on the Qur'an.

Ulum al-Qur'an includes:
- The Science of Interpretation (علم التفسير)

- The Science of the Recitations (علم القراءات)

- The Science of the Script of the Qur'an (علم الرسم)

- The Miracles of the Qur'an (الإعجاز)

- The Reasons of Revelation (أسباب النزول)

- The Abrogating and the Abrogated Ayat (الناسخ والمنسوخ)

- The Unfamiliar Words of the Qur'an (غريب القرآن)

- The 'Iraab or Grammatical analysis of the Qur'an (إعراب القرآن).

The Sciences of the Qur'an are not limited to the ones above and are in fact, many. Imam al-Suyuti's book, 'Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur'an' alone has documented more than 80 sciences of the Qur'an.

How did the Sciences of the Qur'an originate and spread? 

The Prophet ﷺ is our first teacher of the Sciences of the Qur'an. This is because he was the most knowing of the Qur'an and it's Sciences as he was the one directly receiving the Revelation from Allah. The Prophet ﷺ not only relayed to his Companions what Allah had Revealed to him, but he also explained and made clear to them the Qur'an through his Sunnah - his sayings, actions, non-verbal validations, and attributes. So he would, after conveying to them the ayat that Allah Revealed to him, also explain to them the rulings contained within the ayat, its advices, nuanced meanings, and points of guidance.

His Companions would take this knowledge from him and commit it to their memory. This was indeed easy for them as they were from the Arabs and they had very strong memories. It was the norm of the Arabs of the time that they would memorize thousands of lines of poetry and even the lineages of tribes around them. Therefore, they received from Prophet Muhammad ﷺ this precious knowledge of the Sciences of the Qur'an and they didn't have the need of writing it down in books or scrolls as they solely relied on committing it to their memory. That being said, there are authentic reports which narrate that in the time of the Prophet ﷺ, the Quran was recorded on parchment, leather hides, bones, the blades of the leaves of the date palm trees, stones etc.

Zayd ibn Thabit رضي الله عنه said, “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) passed away and the Qur’an was not yet collected. It was written on palm branches, trunks, stalks, and leaves.” [Fadhail as-Sahabah]

It is important to note that the Companions learned and knew all that we know of the Sciences of the Qur'an today from the Prophet ﷺ himself and there is nothing from the Sciences of the Qur'an that we have today that they were ignorant of. The Prophet's ﷺ Companions continued to learn from him ﷺ and then went forth in the lands spreading the beautiful message of Islam and the teachings and knowledge of the Qur'an. The knowledge they imparted to others was still mainly through oral transmission as opposed to knowledge written down and composed. This tradition continued even after the passing away of the Prophet ﷺ and the caliphates of both Abu Bakr and Umar رضي الله عنهما.

After the passing of the Prophet ﷺ, the first compilation of the Quran was by Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه after the Battle of Yamamah on the advise of Umar رضي الله عنه when 70 Companions who were the most learned of the Qur'an were martyred. Umar advised and said, “Indeed a large number of reciters (qurraʾ) have been killed on the Day of Yamamah, and I fear that more reciters will be killed on other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur’an may be lost. Therefore, I am of the opinion that you should order that the Qur’an be compiled.” [Bukhari]

Zayd ibn Thabit رضي الله عنه used to listen to the recitation of the Prophet ﷺ and he heard the final recitation of the Prophet before he passed away. It is reported that it was the order of the Surahs, the abrogated ayat, and other matters were all made clear in this final recitation. He was hence tasked by Abu Bakr to compile the Qur'an together. It is reported that Abu Bakr said, "You are a wise young man, we have no aspersions against you, and you used to write down the revelation for the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).” [Bukhari]

Zayd ibn Thabith رضي الله عنه said, "I used to write down the revelation of the Qur'an as Prophet ﷺ would recite it to me, once I was done he would ask me to recite it and so I would recite, if there was any mistake he would correct it and afterwards I would go to the people and present it.” [Tabarani]

Imam al-Sulami رحمه الله said, “Zayd recited the Qur’an twice to the Prophet ﷺ during the year in which he passed away, and this recitation is called the reading (qirʾa) of Zayd because he transcribed it for the Prophet ﷺ  and recited it to him and witnessed al-ʿarda al-akhira, and he taught its recitation to people until he passed away. That is why Abu Bakr and Umar relied upon him in its compilation and Uthman appointed him in charge of writing the mushafs—may Allah be pleased with them all.” [Sharh as-Sunnah]

All the sahaba were asked to bring the different ayat that they had recorded with themselves. An ayah would not be recorded till it could be witnessed for by atleast 2 people. Khuzaimah ibn Thabit رضي الله عنه was the only person exempted from this rule as the Prophet himself called his testimony equal to that of two people.

Ali ibn Abi Talib رضي الله عنه said, “May Allah have mercy on Abu Bakr. He was the first to compile the Quran between two covers.” [Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah] This mushaf was recorded on parchments that was with Abu Bakr, then with Umar, and then with Hafsah, till Uthman took them and standardised the mushaf from it. May Allah be Pleased with all of them.

Imam al-Layth ibn Saʿad رحمه الله also said, “The first to compile the Qu'’an was Abu Bakr and Zayd transcribed it. The people would come to Zayd ibn Thabit and he would not write a single verse except with two witnesses.” [Al-Itqan]

During the time of Uthman رضي الله عنه, as the message of Islam spread fast across continents and the Islamic Empire expanded greatly, Uthman رضي الله عنه and the Companions saw the need to compile the Qur'an into one mushaf. This was because non Arabs were now embracing Islam in large numbers and it was crucial that the Qur'an be compiled into one standardised book so that the Muslims could unite unanimously on this without differing and to eliminate confusions caused by the different variant readings of the Qur'an. This was the start of the Science of Script of the Qur'an (علم رسم القرآن) where the foundations and rules of writing the Qur'an were laid.

Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman رضي الله عنه came to Uthman رضي الله عنه at the time when the people of Shaam and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Armenia and Azerbaijan. Hudhaifa رضي الله عنه was afraid of their (the people of Shaam 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 (Qur'an) as Jews and the Christians did before." So Uthman رضي الله عنه 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." Hafsah رضي الله عنها sent it to Uthman. Uthman then ordered Zayd bin Thabit, Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Sa'eed bin Al-As and Abdur Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies.

Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zayd 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 Hafsah رضي الله عنها. 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. [Bukhari]

The present order of the Surahs in the mushaf is based on the compilation of Uthman and Zayd ibn Thabit. Zayd was a scribe who used to record the revelation at the time of the Prophet and it is known that the Prophet used to instruct the scribes on how to place the ayat in the Quran. If not directly as some scholars claim, then the order of the Suwar was based on how the Prophet used to compile and recite them. There was no new order invented by the sahaba. Once this mushaf was ready, 7 further copies were made and sent to Makkah, Madinah, Basra, Shaam, Kufa, Yemen and Bahrain. The people would use this standardised mushaf to make their own copies and teach according to it.

The Companions continued teaching these Sciences and during the Umayyad caliphate, we see a greater effort by the Senior Companions and the Tabi'een in spreading knowledge of the Qur'an such as the knowledge of tafseer, the qira'at, the abrogating and abrogated ayat, and explanations of unclear ayat of the Qur'an. This was still done primarily by oral transmission and teaching to students.

There were 4 main Companions who became well-known in their efforts to teach and preserve these Sciences. They are:

1. Abdulla ibn Abbas

2. Abdullah ibn Mas'ud

3 Zayd ibn Thabit

4. Abu Musa al-Ash'ari

In addition to them, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Ubayy ibn Ka'ab are all considered the Senior First Generation of Qur'an Scholars. From them emerged their best and most famous students.

From the well-known students of Abdullah ibn Abbas are Mujahid, 'Ataa, 'Ikrimah, and Sa'eed ibn Jubayr and from the well-known students of Ibn Mas'ud al-Hasan al-Basri, Qatadah, Zayd ibn Aslam, Abdur Rahman, and Malik ibn Anas.

Stay tuned for more InshaAllah....

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