In contrast to the Bible, therefore, we are presented with a text that is none other than the transcript of the Revelation itself; the only way it can be received and interpreted is literally. The purity of the revealed text has been greatly emphasized, and the uncorrupted nature of the Qur’an stems from the following factors:
First, as stated above, fragments of the text were written down during the Prophet’s lifetime; inscribed on tablets, parchments and other materials current at the time. The Qur’an itself refers to the fact that the text was set down in writing. We find this in several suras dating from before and after the Hejira (Muhammad’s departure from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D.) In addition to the transcription of the text, however, there was also the fact that it was learned by heart. The text of the Qur’an is much shorter than the Old Testament and slightly longer than the New Testament. Since it took twenty years for the Qur’an to be revealed, however, it was easy for the Prophet’s followers to recite it by heart, sura by sura. This process of recitation afforded a considerable advantage as far as an uncorrupted text was concerned, for it provided a system of double-checking at the time the definitive text was written down. This took place several years after the Prophet’s death; first under the caliphate of Abu Bakr, his first successor, and later under the caliphate of Omar and in particular that of Uthman (644 to 655 A.D.) The latter ordered an extremely strict recension of the text, which involved checking it against the recited versions.
TEXT OF QUR’AN UNCORRUPTED
After Muhammad’s death, Islam rapidly expanded far beyond the limits of the area in which it was born. Soon, it included many peoples whose native language was not Arabic. Very strict steps were taken to ensure that the text of the Qur’an did not suffer from this expansion of Islam: Uthman sent copies of his entire recension to the principal centers of the vast Islamic empire. Some copies still exist today, in more or less complete form, in such places as Tashkent (U.S.S.R) and Istanbul. Copies have also been discovered that date from the very first centuries after the Hejira; they are all identical, and all of them correspond to the earliest manuscripts.
Today’s editions of the Qur’an are all faithful reproductions of the original copies. In the case of the Qur’an, there are no instances of rewriting or corruption of the text over the course of time.
If the origin of the Qur’an had been similar to those of the Bible, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that the subjects it raised would be presented in the light of the ideas influenced by certain
opinions of the time, often derived from myth and superstition. If this were the case, one might argue that there were untold opportunities for inaccurate assertions, based on such sources, to find their way into the many and varied subjects briefly summarised above. In actual fact, however, we find nothing of the kind in the Qur’an.
But having said this, we should note that the Qur’an is a religious book par excellence. We should not use statements that have a bearing on secular knowledge as a pretext to go hunting after any expression of scientific laws. As stated earlier, all we should seek are reflections on natural phenomena, phrases occasioned by references to divine omnipotence and designed to emphasise that omnipotence in the eyes of mankind throughout the ages. The presence of such reflections in the Qur’an has become particularly significant in modern times, for their meaning is clearly explained by the data of contemporary knowledge. This characteristic is specific to the Qur’an.