The Quran, the sacred book of the Muslims, is held in extraordinary esteem by the followers of Muhammad not withstanding the fact that many who do read it, find its language, Arabic, difficult to understand. Many are impressed by the verse usually inscribed on the covers, a quotation from within, which utters the warning,
It is not surprising; therefore, that many of the orthodox resent it’s coming into the possession of one of another faith. Muslims, everywhere, love to chant it in a low monotone that is not without its peculiar charm even for the uninitiated; while to be a hafs – to achieve the feat of committing to memory the whole book – is still the highest ambition of countless Muslim children and an accomplishment bringing much merit. Certain of the more devout, as a pious practice, wear a miniature copy of the book, called hama’il, enclosed in a bag suspended from the neck. Again, with a view to warding off evil and sickness, certain of its verses and chapters are recited, or else used as charms and tied round the neck or arms.
The Traditions ascribe to Muhammad a variety of statements regarding the value and reward attached to the repetition of certain portions of the book: e.g., “The chapter entitled ‘The earthquake’ (99) is equal to half the Quran; the declaration of ‘The Unity’ (112) is equal to a third of the Quran, and that commencing, ‘Say, 0 ye unbelievers’ (109) is equal to a fourth of the Quran.” Again, “The person who repeats, two hundred times every day, the declaration of God’s Unity (112), his faults of fifty years shall be blotted out, unless he shall have debt upon him.” (Mishkatu’l-Masabih, Book 8, ch 1 Part 2).
A view prevalent among strict orthodox Muslims concerning the origin of the Quran enables us to understand how it is that this high regard for the book becomes at times scarcely distinguishable from superstition. According to this view the Quran is eternal; the very words now found between its covers were inscribed from eternity on lauh mahfuz, the Preserved Table (85:22). The whole collection of these writings was brought down from its place near God’s throne, long ago, in lailatu’l qadr, “the night of power” (97: 1) in the sacred month of Ramadan, to the lowest heaven (2:181); and there stored up until it was revealed, “piecemeal,” as occasion required, to Muhammad (25:34).
It follows that in their view we have here the very words of God Himself albeit in Arabic. Not the ideas alone, but the very words in their spelling and their grammar, all are God’s own God’s alone. Other books, including the Old and New Testament were revelations delivered to men in the form of ideas which inspired prophets gave forth after clothing them in human language. Not so with the Quran. Its actual text was pronounced by Gabriel in the ear of Muhammad (75:16-19). For this reason orthodox Muslims include every word of the Quran in the category of Qal Allahu, “Allah has said,” and consequently they rate the Christian Scriptures much lower because they are not cast entirely in this mould.
The unique origin of the Quran is, in their eyes, further enhanced by the consequent claim that it is alike incomparable and incorruptible. Much is made in this connection of the fact that Muhammad was illiterate, and though some claim that the term nabi ummi, applied to him in the Quran (7:156,158), means the Gentile prophet, yet others contend that it signifies the unlettered one. In any case the Quran has come to be looked upon as the standing miracle of Islam and as occupying a unique place among all scriptures. Muhammad declared it to be the one sufficient “sign” granted to men through him (29:49, 50). Arabs were challenged to produce something like it (17:90; 2:21).
Early Criticism of the Quran
But there is another side to all this. Muhammad seems to have been very sensitive to any criticism of the high claims he himself made for the Quran, claims out of which still more extravagant ones developed. In the short seventy seventh Sura Al-Mursalat the phrase is repeated ten times: “Ah woe, that Day! to the Rejecters of Truth!”
His enemies found one reason for this charge in the way he made disjointed pronouncements from time to time, claiming each to have been revealed to him by God. The charge and his reply are preserved in the Quran: “Those who reject Faith say: “Why is not the Qur’an revealed to him all at once? Thus (is it revealed), that We may strengthen thy heart thereby, and We have rehearsed it to thee in slow, well-arranged stages, gradually.” (Al-Furqan 25:32 ; cp. Al-Isra 17:106). It is unquestionably the fact that numerous passages in the book are of an “occasional” nature, i.e., relating to particular events and emergencies.
Sale, writing two hundred years ago, aptly described this manner of revelation in the introduction to his translation of the Quran: “Whenever anything happened which perplexed Muhammad, and which he could not otherwise get over, he had recourse to a new revelation, as an infallible expedient in all nice cases.” (The Koran, The Preliminary Discourse, Sect 3)
Method of recording revelations
The methods used by Muhammad for recording these utterances varied. At times he would employ a scribe who wrote out the portions upon palm-leaves, leather, stones, or the broad shoulder-blades of some animal. Other revelations, however, were not transcribed, but were stored in the minds of the Companions, special value was attached to this method, because at an early date the recital of a passage of the Quran formed an essential part of public worship. But though the Arab mind was remarkably retentive it was not infallible. Even Muhammad’s memory seems to have failed him at times.
A situation arose in the eleventh year of the Hijra, within two years of Muhammad’s death, which caused both Abu Bakr and ‘Umar to fear for the safety of the Quran. In that year at the battle of Yamama many Muslim warriors, who were also qaris, or reciters of the Quran, lost their lives. The fear lest the book of God should be lost led these two Companions of the prophet to employ Zaid ibn Thabit to collect all the material. What a task he took in hand! Tradition records that he gathered it “from palm-leaves, skins, blade-bones and the hearts of men.”
But who shall say that Zaid managed to secure all that Muhammad had ever uttered and all that had been committed to memory? That no portion was irretrievably lost in the death of some qari or other? As a matter of fact a tradition according to “Umar asserts that “the verse of stoning” concerning the penalty for adulterers, was extant as a revelation in Muhammad’s time, though it is not to be found in the Quran today.
From: ‘The People of the Book’