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1-History of the Text

2-The Qur’an as Scripture

3-The Qur’an in Muslim Thought and Practice

The first article gives a brief history of the origin, collection, and structure of the text. The second presents the Qur’dn as a unique communication from God and provides a survey of modern exegesis of the text. The third discusses the central role of the Qur’dn in Muslim piety. For further discussion of the teachings of the Qur’dn, see Islam, overview article.

History of the Text

The Qur’an is a unique phenomenon in human religious history. It is held by its adherents to exist beyond the mundane sphere as the eternal and immutable word of God, “a glorious qur’an [preserved] in a well-guarded tablet” (85.21-22). It is also an earthly book whose history is intimately tied to the life and history of an earthly community.

Although it was shaped by the Muslim community, the Qur’an in fact created that community and remains the foundation-stone of its faith and morality. Many of its verses were circumstantially determined by the social and religious conditions and questions of the Prophet’s society; yet the Qur’an is believed to transcend all considerations of time and space.

Revelation. The Qur’an is for Muslims the literal word of God revealed to the prophet Muhammad. Like a number of pious Arabs, known as hanifs, who rejected the idolatrous and immoral ways of their people, Muhammad periodically left his home for solitary prayer and meditation (tahannuth) in a cave on Mount Hira’ in the vicinity of Makkah (Mecca). During one such retreat in his fortieth year an awesome person, later identified as the angel Gabriel, appeared to Muhammad as he sat one evening wrapped in deep meditation. Taking hold of him, the angel pressed Muhammad so hard that he thought he was dying. This he repeated three times with the command “Read” or “Recite” (iqra’). Muhammad asked, “What shall I read?” The angel then recited the first five verses of surah 96, which are traditionally considered to be the first revelation of the Qur’an.

According to other reports, when the Prophet saw Gabriel he was frightened; he ran home and asked his family to cover him up. In that state of fear and trepidation revelation came down, ordering him to “rise and warn” (74-1-2). After a period of uncertainty lasting somewhere between six months and two years during which revelation was temporarily interrupted, the Prophet was reassured that the revelations he was receiving were from God, and that the spirit he encountered was an angel and not a demon. Thereafter revelation continued without interruption until his death in AH 10/632 CE. The formative history of the Qur’an was therefore coterminous with the Prophet’s life.

Qur’an and Prophet. Tradition reports that when revelation came to the Prophet, he fell into a trancelike state. During such times he is said to have seen Gabriel either in human guise or in his angelic form. At still other times the Prophet heard sounds like the ringing of a bell; these sounds he apprehended as words that he remembered and communicated to others. The normal mode of revelation, however, was direct communication (wahy) by the angel Gabriel.

During the Prophet’s life many of his companions, as well as some of his wives, had their own partial collections (masdhif sg., mushaf) of the Qur’an, which they used in their prayers and private devotions. Other collections were made by the Prophet’s amanuenses, known as the scribes of revelation.

These early collections differed in important respects, such as the number and order of the surahs and variant readings of certain verses, words, and phrases. With the spread of Islam outside Arabia, private collections and hence variant readings multiplied. Furthermore, as different codices gained popularity in particular regions of the expanding Islamic empire, the need soon arose for an official codex.

Collection of the Qur’an. The crystallization of the Qur’an was a long process, and its early stages were shrouded in political, theological, and juristic exigencies. Each of the four rightly guided caliphs has been credited with either initiating or forwarding this important process. Historians and traditionists are, however, unanimously agreed that an official codex was adopted under the aegis of the third caliph, `Uthman (r. 644-656), within twenty years of the Prophet’s death. The difficult task of eliminating rival codices was gradually but never fully achieved; many peculiarities of the early codices have survived in the official variant readings of the Qur’an. By the third/ninth century a universally accepted orthography and system of vocalization of the `Uthmanic codex was  This helped to reduce a multitude of variant readings to only seven equally valid ones. Among these, the reading of `Asim 4:344), transmitted, by Hafs, d. 805), predominates in most areas of the Muslim world today. The royal Egyptian edition of 1924, which follows this reading and has itself become a standard text has further contributed to its popularity.

Structure and Internal History. The Qur’an is a rather small book, consisting of 114 surahs or chapters varying in length from three to 286 verses. The surahs were arranged roughly by length, which means that the earliest and shortest surahs were placed at the end, and the latest and longest ones at the beginning.

Very early commentators classified Qur’anic materials into Meccan and Medinan surahs. On the basis of such internal evidence as change in style, idiom, and subject matter of the revelations, modern Western scholarship has divided the Meccan period into early, middle, and late periods.

In spite of such efforts to construct a broad chronology of the Qur’an, this goal remains impossible, because the sacred text itself provides no reliable framework for the history of its revelation. Nevertheless, knowledge of its chronology is crucial for an understanding of the early history of the Muslim community.

The Qur’an makes numerous references to particular events and situations in the life of the Prophet and his society. On the basis of such allusions an important field of Qur’anic study known as “occasions” or “causes (asbab) of revelation” was developed. This subject is closely related to another field, the study of the abrogated and abrogating verses of the Qur’an. Both fields are, moreover, of great significance for the developments of law and theology. But because law and theology have been inexorably bound to the political and sectarian realities of Muslim history, the study of the chronology of the Qur’an has likewise been deeply affected by political and sectarian considerations.

In itself, the Qur’an has been a closed book since the death of the Prophet; but the Qur’an has continued to interact with the history of the Muslim world. From the beginning Muslims have dedicated their best minds, voices, and musical talents to the exegesis and recitation of the Qur’an. While Western scholarship has subjected the Qur’an to the full rigor of modern historical and literary criticism, contemporary Islamic scholarship has limited itself to the criticism of the Qur’anic sciences. As for the Qur’an itself, it remains the criterion by which everything else is judged.


Bell, Richard. Bell’s Introduction to the Qur’an. New ed., revised by W. Montgomery Watt . Edinburgh, 1970. Basic English study, and still useful, but too speculative and inconclusive.

Burton, John. The Collection of the Qur’an. Cambridge, 1977. Through a thorough analysis of classical juristic, hadith, and exegetical sources, Burton arrives at the opposite conclusion from that of Wansbrough. The so-called `Uthmanic codex was in fact, Burton asserts, the mushaf used during the Prophet’s life. Thus it was not `Uthman, but Muhammad who first collected the Qur’an.

Goldziher, Ignacz. Die Richtungen der islamischen Koranauslegung (1920). Leiden, 1970. Classic work on Qur’anic exegesis, beginning with a very useful discussion of the history of the Qur’anic text. Jeffery,, Arthur, ed. Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur’an. Leiden, 1937. Important piece of research into the codex fragments preserved in classical works on the subject.

Khu’ , Abu al-Qasim al-. Al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur `an. Beirut, 1975. Al-Khu’i (or al-Kho’i; d. 1993) was the supreme authority (marja`) in legal and religious matters for the Twelver Shi’i community. Long before Burton, he arrived at essentially the same conclusion. His thesis is that “`Uthman did not collect a mushaf, but rather united the Muslim community upon an already existing and generally excepted one.” The work also deals with many important issues in Qur’anic studies.

Noldeke, Theodor. Geschichte des Qordns (1860). Revised and enlarged by Friedrich Schwally. 2 vols. Leipzig, 1909. Revised and enlarged by Gotthelf Bergstrasser and Otto Pretzl. 3 vols. Leipzig, 1905-1938. Rev. ed. Hildesheim, 1964. Basic work on the history of the Qur’an.

Sa’id, Labib al-. The Recited Koran. Translated by Bernard G. Weiss et ah. Princeton, 1975. Muslim response to Western critical scholarship on the Qur’an.

Wansbrough John. Quranic Studies. Oxford, 1977. Using biblical critical methods in the study of the Qur’an, Wansbrough concludes that the sacred book did not attain its present state until the third century. Similar arguments are presented in his Sectarian Milieu (Oxford, 1978).

Welch, Alford T. “Kur’an.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 5, PP. 400-432. Leiden, 1960-. Welch remains one of the few committed proponents of Bell’s theories. The article provides a useful overview of Western Qur’anic studies and a number of the author’s own conclusions.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/quran/

  • writerPosted On: July 9, 2017
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