Most Muslims are familiar with the above verse from the Quran, which they consider as the concrete proof that the Quran is perfectly preserved. The verse is clear; Allah pledges to protect his book from corruption, which provides Muslims with a much needed assurance that their holy book is reliable. Such assurance was necessary to Muslims whose confidence in the divine scriptures was shaken after the Quran’s repeated accusations to other nations of tampering with their own scriptures.
Muslims are taught that preservation of the Quran is an accepted fact that distinguishes Islam from the rest. The claim aims to make the Quran stand out as the only true divine book in the procession of mankind today. The Muslims’ claim is a big lie that has proved to be a very successful selling point to converts who often refer to the Quran in that sense.
It is not advisable to question the authenticity of the Quran with Muslims unless you are sure of their relative tolerance. The Muslims clouded minds quickly moves into circular logic such as: ”Of course, every word in the the Quran is preserved as Allah revealed it to his prophet, this is an absolute fact because Allah vowed to protect his book from any corruption” It would be a struggle to try to point out that a statement in the Quran can not be accepted as a proof of its authenticity.
From a scientific point of view, the Quran and Islam wouldn’t stand a chance if subjected to proper historical scrutiny (1). Muhammad’s birth and life, the Quran and the beginning of Islam are all shrouded with a thick coat of vagueness and obscurity. But this article discredits the islamic claim on the basis of the accepted Islamic history.
How the Quran was preserved
As all Muslims know, the Quran was not Allah’s first book; a few others were revealed centuries before the Quran. None of those scriptures survived to our day because they were tampered with by the very people to whom they were revealed. Fourteen hundreds years ago, Allah decided conclusively to reveal a scripture, once and for all, which He called the Quran, and vowed to protect it from corruption.
We do not know the reasons why people tampered with the earlier scriptures. Did they gain anything by deliberately making changes to Allah’s words? Why they did not fear Allah, especially with all the stories in those scriptures, about Allah’s punishments to those who dared to disobey Him. We also do not know why Allah allowed his books to be tampered with. Even human writers do not allow any changes to their works.
As Allah pledges to protect the Quran, one would think that He would create the ideal conditions for His revelation along with man-proof measures to safeguard the Quran. Well, it doesn’t look to us that way. On the contrary, it looks as if Allah made every effort to make the Quran disappear, even before its revelation was completed.
Let us examine the circumstances of the Quranic revelation:
The Quran was revealed in the seventh century to the Arabs, one of the most illiterate nations of the time. It was the Arabs first ever book. Before the Quran the Arabs never authored a book and had no idea how books look like or how to handle them. Revealing the Quran to the Arabs sets the scene for mistakes of all kinds.
The Quran was revealed before the Arabic script was fully developed. The Arabic script was not yet suitable for writing anything with significance because many letters shared the same appearance. The script problem was only solved, decades after Muhammad’s death, by adding dots to the script. It is only fair to wonder why Allah rushed the Quran before the Arabic script was well developed.
It looks strange that the Arabs used the same script for multiple letters. But before the Quran, the Arabs only managed to write a few pieces of poetry. Reading the script served as a reminder for the reader of what they already knew by heart. As a matter of fact, the Arabic script still suffers of a similar problem in our time.
There are many Arabic words (not letters) that share exactly the same appearance, even after adding the dots. It is usually left for the reader to work out, from the context, the proper pronunciation of a particular word. To distinguish those words from each other, printing has to include the diacritical marks (like fat-ha, kasra, and damma), which the Arabs started to use more than a century after Muhammad’s death. Although used in the Quran, the diacritical marks are rarely used in every day printing of ordinary books or newspapers because they make the words cluttered and printing more demanding.
The Illiterate Receiver
At the time of the Quranic revelations, there were some Arabs who were educated enough to be able to read and write. Out of all the Arabs, Allah appointed Muhammad, an illiterate person, to be in charge of the Quran. This is like appointing an illiterate person to be in charge of editing an important newspaper..
Muhammad had some scribes working for him in Medina. After a revelation, Muhammad would ask whoever available of those scribes to write the revealed verse/verses. The scribe service was not available to Muhammad when he was still a weak person with only a handful of followers in Mecca. Therefore, it is fair to assume that the Meccan verses, over one third of the Quran, were not written immediately by scribes.
Being an illiterate person, Muhammad had no means to check the work of the scribes for errors that could have been made accidentally or on purpose. Being trustworthy himself is meaningless if Muhammad had to leave the work to be completed by ordinary people without supervision.
The story of Ibn Abu Al Sarh:
This is a very important and very little known story about the Quran. Muslim scholars make every effort to tuck it away and keep it out of sight of ordinary Muslims. I only learned about this story after I left Islam.
In short: Abdulla Ibn Abu Al Sarh was one of the scribes in Medina. Once Muhammad dictated to him a verse that had one of the common endings like aleem khabeer or hakeem aleem. When Ibn Abu Al Sarh reached the end of the verse he double checked with Muhammad: “Oh prophet of Allah, is it hakeem aleem?” to which Muhammad said ‘yes, it is’. Ibn Abu Al Sarh became suspicious because he thought it was aleem khabeer. Ibn Abu Al Sarh decided to test Muhammad in future verses and noticed that Muhammad accepts his suggestions of aleem khabeer or hakeem aleem or other endings that do not distort the meaning.
Ibn Abu Al Sarh concluded that Muhammad was not a prophet but an impostor. He denounced Islam and defected to Mecca and told the Quraysh of what happened. Muhammad became very angry and vowed to kill him once he conquers Mecca, which he was preparing for. When Muhammad conquered Mecca, Ibn Abu Al Sarh was arrested but was saved from the death sentence by Uthman, his brother in breast feeding. Ibn Abu Al Sarh survived and had a successful career under the Umayad dynasty, which speaks volumes of the faith of the Umayads!
We do not know which verses were scribed by Ibn Abu Al Sarh, but we know that at least those verses were not accurate!
The technology necessary for writing was not well developed in Arabia. The scribes used primitive ink and perishable material to accomplish their work. Consequently, by the time Muhammad died, some verses were unreadable or completely missing from the Quran. According to Aysha, Muhammad’s wife, she used to keep the stoning verse under her bed, but was eaten by a ‘dajen’ (chicken or domestic animal!)
Until Muhammad’s death, nobody inspected the work of the scribes, which was left to gather dust until after Muhammad’s death. The moment of truth came about two decades later when Caliph Uthman appointed a committee to start the project of collecting the Quran. Only then the discrepancies in the various writings came to light. Uthman’s solution was to order to burn all existing copies and keep only the formal five copies which were produced by his committee. Many leading Muslims refused to recognize Uthman’s copies and refused to surrender their own to be destroyed because they believed theirs were the accurate ones. Ibn Massoud, a sahabi whose knowledge of the Quran was renowned and commended by Muhammad, was one of those Muslims who refused to recognize Uthman’s copies and refused to surrender his personal, presumably accurate, collection.
Preserving the Quran in the Muslims’ chests
Some Muslim scholars claim that all of the above is irrelevant because the Quran was preserved in the Muslims’ chests as well. (Yes, the Quran associates the heart with intelligence, not a word about the brain, and the Muslims believed it). This claim is coupled to a belief that the early Muslims were humans with extra ordinary intelligence. Of course this is completely unfounded and still doesn’t explain the discrepancies between the various collections of the Quran.
Muhammad could and should have done more to safeguard the Quran, if he really believed it was Allah’ words and the most important document on earth. He had the resources and the authority, as a leader in Medina, to order a supervised writing and proper collection of the Quran. He should have stamped that authenticated copy (Muhammad had a stamp) and devised a system to take care of it after him. But he didn’t because he was busy fighting wars; over seventy of them in a space of ten years. Besides he didn’t really feel the Quran was that important. He probably found the chaotic situation useful, as it gave him the freedom to contradict the earlier verses without being noticed.
Many Muslims believe that two of Uthman’s copies still exist today and they seem to be sure about it. They do so because they believe their scholars who propagate this lie with apparent confidence, which is not unusual for Muslim scholars.
Caliph Uthman sent four of his copies to the governers of the newly conquered states and kept one with him in Medina. Those copies were supposed to have been well looked after but there is no trace of them. How can Muslims afford to lose such important divine documents? This is difficult to fathom considering the way today’s Muslims treat the Quran. Muslims are usually reluctant to dispose of their old copies of the Quran because it is not a straight forward matter; it should be burnt and not mixed with the general waste.
Until the discovery of the Quran of Sanaa, the oldest two copies of the Quran were thought to be the ones in Tashkent and Istanbul. Both copies are partial, not the full Quran and both were dated to some two hundred years after Muhammad’s death. Therefore they are not Uthman’s copies.
In the 1970s, manuscripts of the Quran were found in Sanaa, Yemen, and were dated to about hundred years after Muhammad’s death. They are believed to be the oldest copy of the Quran. The Yemini authorities stopped the German researchers from completing their work once they noticed the differences between the manuscripts and the existing Quran. It is also interesting to note that independent researchers have no access to do proper studies on the copies in Tashkent and Istanbul.
Are they hiding something?