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Answering Islamophobic Claims

Why Did Uthman Burn All Quranic Manuscripts?


An argument that is often raised against the textual reliability of the Quran, was the act of burning all Quranic fragments and manuscripts under the edict of Caliph Uthman.

So why did Uthman make such a drastic order? According to the hadith, the order of events took place as follows:

Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur'an, so he said to 'Uthman, "O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before." So 'Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa sent it to 'Uthman. 'Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, 'Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and 'AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. 'Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue." They did so, and when they had written many copies, 'Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. 'Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Said bin Thabit added, "A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur'an and I used to hear Allah's Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): 'Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.' (33.23) (Bukhari)

The hadith basically answers everything, ironically, this is the same hadith that is often used to argue against the Quran’s authenticity.

What happened was that Muslims were having differences in how they recited the Quran, in this case, it was the people of Sham (Syria), and the people of Iraq. In fact, even today, if one were to listen to the Arabic dialect of a Syrian, and that of an Iraqi, one would notice differences between the two.

So one of the companions noticed this and became worried by it, specifically in regards to their differences in recitation concerning the Quran, and how one side would regard their recitation as superior to the other. So he went to Uthman and informed him of what he had seen, and had asked Uthman to do something about the issue, lest Muslims fall into the same disputes the Jews and Christians did with their own book.

Uthman came up with a very good idea, to get rid of such differences, he would issue an official standardized Quran to be used and distributed to all Muslims. The official standardized Quran that Uthman gathered, were from the original Quranic manuscripts itself. During the lifetime of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph of Islam, he commissioned for the entire Quran to be collected and made into an official manuscript:

Abu Bakr As-Siddiq sent for me when the people! of Yamama had been killed (i.e., a number of the Prophet's Companions who fought against Musailama). (I went to him) and found 'Umar bin Al-Khattab sitting with him. Abu Bakr then said (to me), "Umar has come to me and said: "Casualties were heavy among the Qurra' of the! Qur'an (i.e. those who knew the Quran by heart) on the day of the Battle of Yalmama, and I am afraid that more heavy casualties may take place among the Qurra' on other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be lost. Therefore I suggest, you (Abu Bakr) order that the Qur'an be collected." I said to 'Umar, "How can you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" 'Umar said, "By Allah, that is a good project. "Umar kept on urging me to accept his proposal till Allah opened my chest for it and I began to realize the good in the idea which 'Umar had realized." Then Abu Bakr said (to me). 'You are a wise young man and we do not have any suspicion about you, and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Apostle. So you should search for (the fragmentary scripts of) the Qur'an and collect it in one book)." By Allah If they had ordered me to shift one of the mountains, it would not have been heavier for me than this ordering me to collect the Qur'an. Then I said to Abu Bakr, "How will you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" Abu Bakr replied, "By Allah, it is a good project." Abu Bakr kept on urging me to accept his idea until Allah opened my chest for what He had opened the chests of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. So I started looking for the Qur'an and collecting it from (what was written on) palmed stalks, thin white stones and also from the men who knew it by heart, till I found the last Verse of Surat At-Tauba (Repentance) with Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari, and I did not find it with anybody other than him. The Verse is: 'Verily there has come unto you an Apostle (Muhammad) from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty..(till the end of Surat-Baraa' (At-Tauba) (9.128-129) Then the complete manuscripts (copy) of the Qur'an remained with Abu Bakr till he died, then with 'Umar till the end of his life, and then with Hafsa, the daughter of 'Umar. (Bukhari)

So Uthman ordered that this official manuscript be made into official copies and distributed for the entire Muslim community. More importantly, Uthman ordered that the manuscripts be written in the dialect of the Quraysh, as the Quran was originally revealed to them, in their dialect etc. This would thereby insure there wouldn’t be differences in dialectal reciation over each one another.

The Quranic fragments and manuscripts that were burned, were unofficial copies, many of them were essentially personal copies as well. The most important point to remember though is that Uthman was distributing an official and authentic copy of the Quran, to get rid of all differences that were emerging, and this act in of itself should be praised. So Uthman got rid of all unofficial documents, and replaced them with an official copy itself, if anything, this a great evidence of the Quran’s preservation and textual integrity.

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