One of the common misunderstandings regarding the Quran that needs to be put to rest is that the Quran was originally and predominately an oral recitation and later converted to a written form. This falsity is often repeated by historians, Orientalists, and scholars and is commonly propagated by the Muslim masses. Some go so far as to claim that during the prophet’s life, there was no written Quran. If such an understanding is to be accepted, this would imply that the written Quran was not part of the divine revelation. This understanding is inconsistent with logic, history, and, most importantly, the verses of the Quran.

Meaning of Quran

The term Quran ( الْقُرْآن ) often is translated as “Recitation,” and some people assume this means the Quran’s foremost format is oral, but this is not correct. The word Quran comes from the root ( ق ر ا ). This root has the derivative meaning: “to read” and, more specifically, “to read from something written.” So the word Quran inherently implies reciting from something written.

This is apparent by the very first revelation given to Muhammad, where Muhammad is commanded to “read” ( iq’ra / اقرَأ ) which is from the same root as the word Quran. Secondly, it clarifies that this is from something written when it explains that “He (God) teaches by means of the pen” ( الْقَلَم ) in verse 96:4.

[96:1] Read, in the name of your Lord, who created.
[96:2] He created man from an embryo.
[96:3] Read, and your Lord, Most Exalted.
[96:4] Teaches by means of the pen.
[96:5] He teaches man what he never knew.

(١) اقرَأ بِاسمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذي خَلَقَ
(٢) خَلَقَ الْإِنْسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ
(٣) اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ
(٤) الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ
(٥) عَلَّمَ الْإِنْسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ

The Function of The Pen

In case anyone may argue that the term “pen” ( الْقَلَم ) used in 96:4 is somehow metaphorical, it specifies in the second revelation given to Muhammad that the function of the pen is “to write.” This shows that the mechanism God taught the Quran to the prophet was not only oral but in a written form.

[68:1] NuN, the pen, and what they (the people) write.

(١) نون وَالقَلَمِ وَما يَسطُرونَ

Different Words for Recitation

The Quran uses three words that are often translated as “recite,” but each of these has a slightly different meaning. As shown above, the use of the root ( ق ر ا ) for the word Quran means to recite from something written. The more general word for recitation is the word “tlū” ( تْلُو ) which comes from the root ( ت ل و ). The third root used in the Quran that is often translated as recite is ( ر ت ل ) which we get the word “rattīl” ( رَتِّل ). This root only occurs four times in two different verses of the Quran and means to read or recite slowly with detail in a specific order.

[25:32] Those who disbelieved said, “Why did not the Quran come through him all at once?” So that we could strengthen your heart with it, we recited it slowly in its entirety in a specific sequence.

 وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَوْلَا نُزِّلَ عَلَيْهِ الْقُرْآنُ جُمْلَةً وَاحِدَةً كَذَٰلِكَ لِنُثَبِّتَ بِهِ فُؤَادَكَ وَرَتَّلْنَاهُ تَرْتِيلًا

[73:4] Or a little more. And read the Quran from cover to cover.

 أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلِ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا

1awأَوْOr
2zidزِدْadd
3ʿalayhiعَلَيْهِto it.
4warattiliوَرَتِّلِAnd read / recite carefully with attention to detail
5l-qur’ānaالْقُرْآنَthe Quran
6tartīlanتَرْتِيلًا(in) specific / distinct order / entirety (*from cover to cover).

Note that Sura 73 was the supposed third revelation of the Quran. Since this word implies both reading and reciting with deliberation in a specific order, it means that the prophet was obligated to fulfill this requirement. If the Quran was not in written form, then the prophet would not have been able to fulfill this commandment.

So from the first three revelations, we see

  • The prophet was commanded to “read” the Quran.
  • God taught the Quran through the pen
  • That the function of the pen is to write
  • Muhammad was commanded to read the Quran in a specific order with detail

Written Quran Identified by Adversaries

All this points to the importance of the written Quran from the very start of the revelation. But there is more, as even the contemporary adversaries to the prophet acknowledged that the Quran was in written form when they accused someone else of dictating to Muhammad the Quran that was written. This is stated in the following verse.

[25:5] They also said, “Tales from the past that he wrote down; they were dictated to him day and night.”

1waqālūوَقَالُواAnd they said,
2asāṭīruأَسَاطِيرُ“Tales (of)
3l-awalīnaالْأَوَّلِينَthe former [ones] (people) / past generations
4ik’tatabahāاكْتَتَبَهَا(which) he wrote it
5fahiyaفَهِيَand [it]
6tum’lāتُمْلَىٰit is dictated
7ʿalayhiعَلَيْهِto him
8buk’ratanبُكْرَةًmorning / day
9wa-aṣīlanوَأَصِيلًاand evening / night.”

Another proof of the Quran existing in written form during the prophet’s life is that it assures the believers that the written revelations given to Muhammad were not altered or distorted because if he did that, Muhammad would have been seized by the right hand ( بِالْيَمِينِ ).

[69:44] Had he stated any other teachings.
[69:45] We would have punished him [seized him by the right hand].
[69:46] We would have stopped the revelations to him.
[69:47] None of you could have helped him.

وَلَو تَقَوَّلَ عَلَينا بَعضَ الأَقاويلِ
لَأَخَذنا مِنهُ بِاليَمينِ
ثُمَّ لَقَطَعنا مِنهُ الوَتينَ
فَما مِنكُم مِن أَحَدٍ عَنهُ حاجِزينَ

Why would God indicate that had Muhammad stated any other teachings other than the Quran that He would have seized him, Muhammad, “by the right hand”?

The context of 64:44 – 47 is about God’s revelations of the Quran, which was given to Muhammad to deliver. To provide assurances that God’s verses were not altered by the messenger, God is telling us that if Muhammad was to write any other teachings, He would have seized his right hand, thus effectively stopping him from being able to continue writing any more of God’s revelations. Proof that the word ( بِالْيَمِينِ ) “by the right hand” in this context is about writing can be seen in the following verse, where we are informed that Muhammad did not write the previous scriptures with his right hand.

[29:48] You did not read the previous scriptures, nor did you write them with your right hand. In that case, the rejectors would have had reason to harbor doubts.

(٤٨) وَمَا كُنْتَ تَتْلُو مِنْ قَبْلِهِ مِنْ كِتَابٍ وَلَا تَخُطُّهُ بِيَمِينِكَ إِذًا لَارْتَابَ الْمُبْطِلُونَ

1wamāوَمَاAnd not
2kuntaكُنْتَyou used to
3tatlūتَتْلُو[you] recite / read
4minمِنْfrom
5qablihiقَبْلِهِbefore it
6minمِنْany
7kitābinكِتَابٍscripture,
8walāوَلَاand not (did)
9takhuṭṭuhuتَخُطُّهُyou write it
10biyamīnikaبِيَمِينِكَwith your right hand,
11idhanإِذًاthen
12la-ir’tābaلَارْتَابَsurely [he] would have doubted
13l-mub’ṭilūnaالْمُبْطِلُونَthe falsifiers / rejectors.

The Quran confirms that the revelation of the Quran was complete and compiled in its final form during the prophet’s life and that Muhammad was responsible for upholding it after its completion.

[75:16] Do not move your tongue to hasten it.
[75:17] It is we who will collect it into Quran.
[75:18] Once we recite it, you shall follow such a Quran.
[75:19] Then it is we who will explain it.

 لَا تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِهِ
 إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ
 فَإِذَا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ
ثُمَّ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ

75:17:1innaإِنَّIndeed,
75:17:2ʿalaynāعَلَيْنَاupon us
75:17:3jamʿahuجَمْعَهُits collection / gathering
75:17:4waqur’ānahuوَقُرْآنَهُand its recitation / Quran.
75:18:1fa-idhāفَإِذَاAnd when
75:18:2qaranāhuقَرَأْنَاهُwe recited it,
75:18:3fa-ittabiʿفَاتَّبِعْthen you follow
75:18:4qur’ānahuقُرْآنَهُits recitation / Quran.

Since the “you” is singular in these verses, it indicates that this verse is speaking to Muhammad and informing him that the collection of the Quran will occur, and it is his responsibility to follow the recitation afterward. This signifies that the collection and compilation of the Quran occurred while Muhammad was still alive and not as depicted in the falsified Hadith literature.

Spelling and Literacy

If the Quran was solely, or even predominately, an oral transmission during the prophet’s life, then we would expect to find much variability in spelling between the oldest Quran manuscripts. Additionally, if the Quran was revealed only to the prophet as an oral recitation, then this would imply that the text of the Quran was not part of divine revelation, and therefore scribes should have been allowed to apply their own discretion in the spelling in their writing of the Quran. Except upon analysis of the earliest Quran manuscripts, we find this is not the case.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the earliest Quran manuscripts is the spelling across the entire text from the thousands of manuscripts is obsessively consistent. This is particularly interesting since several letters in Arabic have very similar sounds despite having completely different orthography (rasm).

  • أ vs. ع
  • ت vs. ط
  • ح vs. ه
  • ذ vs. ظ
  • د vs. ض
  • س vs. ص
  • ذ vs. ز
  • ك vs. ق
  • ز vs. ظ

If we are to believe that the Quran was solely or predominately oral and given to illiterate people, then we would expect that there would be a vast amount of spelling differences among the thousands of the earliest manuscripts that are in existence. Except, this is not the case. It is so rare that when something like this is discovered, it gets a mass amount of attention, like in the word “basatan” ( بَسْطَةً ) in 7:69, where in some manuscripts, it is written incorrectly with a saad ( ص ) rather than with a siin ( س ).

Another interesting occurrence is the name Abraham (Ibrahim), which occurs 69 times in the Quran. Throughout the Quran, this name is consistently spelled ( إِبْرَٰهِيمَ ), except for Sura 2, where the 15 occurrences of Abraham is spelled as ( إِبْرَٰهِـۧمَ ) without the ( ي ). It is worth noting that either spelling does not impact the pronunciation, yet this shows direct deliberation in the details of the Arabic spelling within the text.

The only variation that one will find in older manuscripts of the Quran is in regards to the three long vowels from the Arabic language ( ا ، و ، ي ), and even then, it is only in select instances where it does not have a grammatical impact.

This meticulous consistency in spelling has perplexed individuals who ascribe to the notion that the Quran’s primary form was oral. Because if that were the case, one would expect to find many variations in spellings across manuscripts throughout history over vast regions. This again shows that the strict written form of the Quran was just as important, if not more so than the oral transmission.

Arabic Grammar

There is another problem with individuals who don’t acknowledge that the Quran text was part of the divine revelation, which concerns Arabic grammar.

The Arabic language is a Semitic language. Semitic languages are a group of related languages spoken in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. The term “Semitic” comes from the word Shem, which is a figure in the Hebrew Bible and is traditionally considered the father of the Semitic peoples. A hallmark of Semitic languages is distinguished by their use of triconsonantal roots and a system of vowel changes to indicate grammatical features and changes in the word’s meaning.

Arabic, like other Semitic languages, utilizes roots to form the vast majority of words in its language. For example, the root k-t-b (ك-ت-ب) is the basis of many words in Arabic, including “book” (كِتاب), “write” (كَتَبَ), and “writer” (كاتِب).

The root system in Arabic allows speakers to create new words by adding different patterns of vowels and consonants to the root and infer the meaning of words they are not familiar with by analyzing the root and the patterns it follows. This system helps to make the Arabic language, like other Semitic languages, highly expressive and flexible.

As mentioned above, Arabic has letters that have similarities in sounds. If the majority of people were illiterate, this would severely impact their ability to deconstruct the meaning of words, as it would not be apparent which root one was to apply to an unfamiliar word. The fact that the Arabic root system has been preserved and continued to propagate even before the revelation of the Quran shows that this was a system that most people ascribed to. If the Arab people were illiterate, we would expect that the Arabic language would have drifted away from the Semitic root system it originated from. We would expect to see a lot more fluidity in the meanings of words by decoupling from the root system the language originated from.

Additionally, the Quran’s strict grammatical guidelines cause the text to appear almost more like computer code rather than what we would expect to have found if the text was of secondary importance to oral transmission. This strict structure and consistency shows that even the scribes of the earliest manuscripts put extra emphasis on maintaining the accuracy of the text of the Quran, just like they did for the oral transmission, if not more so. Again if we are to accept that the Quran was only an oral transmission and that the written Quran was taken upon individuals after the prophet’s death, then it does not make sense why there was such strict adherence to the spelling and grammar of the Quran from the earliest manuscripts to today.

Conclusion

The evidence above shows that the Quran existed in both written and oral forms from the very first revelation. The Quran itself provides a multitude of proofs of its written form, and it explains that the text was collected and compiled during Muhammad’s lifetime. The consistency in spelling and the attention to detail from the earliest manuscripts to the ones we have today indicates that the written Quran was just as important, if not more important, in certain regards as the oral transmission. This indicates that the written Quran was part of the divine revelation, no different than the oral transmission. This means that not only did Muhammad himself write the Quran, but every letter was meticulously dictated to him by God Almighty through divine revelation carried down by the angel Gabriel. Therefore the Quran always consisted of both a written and oral form and not as strictly an oral transmission that was later transcribed to text in a single compilation years after the prophet’s death as most people presume.

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