Development of Arabic language of Quran

Collection and Evolution of the language of the Quran

By: Dr. Adel Elsaie

Source: Page :25

The Arabic Language: Its Amazing History and Features

The Quran literally means “the recital.” Muslims regard the Quran as the authentic revelation of God to Muhammad, revealed in Arabic by Gabriel, the Angel of revelation to all the Messengers of Allah. This divine revelation of the Quran implies that the words are divinely given; so any text can be interpreted in the light of other texts. The Quran is the collection of the verses revealed to Muhammad during approximately 23 years of his prophetic life (610-32). It is divided into 114 chapters (Surah) of unequal length, the shortest containing only 3 short verses and the longest containing 286 verses. Both Islamic and non-Islamic scholars agree on the essential integrity of the text of the Quran throughout its history. Because of the distortion of all previous Books by humans, God kept his promise that He Himself will protect the Quran. The Quran is complete and authentic. Nothing of it is missing and no more of it is expected. Its authenticity is beyond any doubt and no serious scholar or thinker has ventured to question its genuineness. God made it incumbent upon Himself to protect it against distortion of any kind. Thus it is given to mankind as the standard or the criterion by which all other books are judged. Consequently, whatever agrees with the Quran is accepted as divine truth and whatever differs from the Quran is rejected. God says:

“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)” (Surah 15, Ayah 9)

The purity of the text of the Quran through fourteen centuries is a foretaste of the eternal care with which Allah’s Truth is guarded through all ages. Allah’s Pure and Holy Truth will never suffer eclipse in any time or in any place. Unlike the Bible, in the present day, millions of Muslims (Arabs and non-Arabs) memorize the whole Quran by heart. Some of them have been able to memorize the entire Quran by the age of ten. This is a simple and yet an overwhelming fact. Not only did God preserve the text of the Quran, but also the style of reciting the Quran by today’s Muslims is exactly the same style of recitation as that of Muhammad himself. Muslims, when reading verses of the Quran, stop where the Messenger of Allah stopped and continue where he continued. One may really wonder about the strength of God’s promise to preserve the Quran in writing as well as in reading. When one recites the Quran, one is reading the authentic Words of the Only God with the exact reading style of the greatest man ever lived. This is definitely an enormous spiritual experience.

From the very beginning of the revelation, the Messenger of Allah and the Muslims recited the Quran by heart and the scribes wrote it down in his presence. The Quran therefore starts with two elements of authenticity that the Gospels do not have: true divine inspiration and immediate recording. This continued until the Messenger’s death. This memorization of the Quran by heart was crucial because not everyone could write, but everyone was able to recite. About thirty thousand companions of the Prophet memorized the whole Quran during his time. The Arabs at that time used to memorize very long poems. All these poems exist in the present Arabic literature. So it was not difficult for the Arabs to memorize a very long text by heart. Also the fact that millions of present day Muslims know the entire Quran by heart provides an assurance that it was done before. This memorization of the Quran provides a considerable advantage because of the double-checking that occurred when the definitive text was compiled.

The Angel Gabriel made the first Quranic revelation to Muhammad when he was in the cave of Hira in a mountain outside Mecca. He never worshipped any idols and he used to go to this cave every year on the month of Ramadan (the ninth Arabic month) to meditate and search for the truth. The first verses that were revealed to him were those of Surah 96, Ayah 1-5. The first revelation was as follows:

“Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who Created. Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, He Who taught (the use of) the pen, Taught man that which he knew not.”

In these first verses, the Quran praises reading, knowledge and using pens, which explains the Messenger’s concern for recording the Quran in writing. When the revelations became known, he was accused that the Quran was tales of the ancients which he has written down and they are dictated to him morning and afternoon, (Surah 25, Ayah 5). The unbelievers treated him as an impostor and they spread rumors that the established Jewish and Christian communities in Arabia dictated the stories to him! This is in spite of the fact that during many divine revelations he was with his family or his companions and those fictitious sources never revealed themselves.

All sources agree in stating that whenever a verse of the Quran was revealed, the Prophet called one of his literate companions and dictated it to him, indicating at the same time the exact position of the verse in the fabric of what had already been received. The Prophet Muhammad then asked the scribe to reread to him what had been dictated so that he could correct any inaccuracies. It is a known fact that there were 27 scribes in his following. The most famous of scribes, Zaid Ibn Thabit and Obayy Ibn Kaab, have recorded their names in history. Another famous tradition tells how every year in the month of Ramadan, the Prophet would recite all the revealed Quran to Gabriel. Also in the month of Ramadan preceding the Prophet’s death, Gabriel had made him recite the Quran twice. It is a fact that millions of Muslims all over the world recite the Quran in its original Arabic language during the month of Ramadan, following the habit of the Prophet. The method of doubly preserving the text both in writing and by memorization proved to be extremely precious.

Not long after the Prophet’s death (632), his successor Abu Bakr, the first religious head of the Islamic state or Caliph, asked Muhammad’s former head scriber Zaid Ibn Thabit to assemble an official copy; this he did. On Omar’s initiative (the future second Caliph) Zaid Ibn Thabit consulted all the information (those who memorize the Quran, copies of the Book on various materials belonging to individuals) he could assemble, all with the objective of avoiding any possible errors in transcription. According to the instruction of Abu Bakr, a verse could be accepted only if it was presented at least in two manuscripts and should conform to the memorized version of the commission headed by Zaid Ibn Thabit. A parallel to this conscientious performance does not exist in the case of any other scripture in the history of the world. Thus an extremely faithful copy of the Quran was obtained. Truthful history states that Caliph Omar, Abu Bakr’s successor in 634, subsequently made a single volume that he preserved and gave on his death to his daughter Hafsah; the Prophet’s widow who was one of the few literate women of her time.

The third Caliph Othman, who held the Caliphate from 644 to 655, realized that copies of the Quran from the original text at Hafsah had to be available to different Islamic countries. Othman entrusted it once again to Zaid Ibn Thabit with the request that its copies should be prepared, compared and corrected for spelling mistakes. The commission consulted Muslims that knew the Quran by heart. The critical analysis of the authenticity of the text was carried out rigorously. The agreement of all the witnesses were deemed necessary, before the slightest verse containing debatable material was retained. Othman ordered that all the finished copies of the Quran should be read aloud, one by one, from the beginning to the end in the Prophet’s Mosque. The result was an authentic text containing an order of the Surah that reflects the order followed by the Prophet in his complete recital of the Quran during Ramadan. The Quran is classified as to the place of revelation, whether it is Mecca or Madinah. Some verses are doubted only regarding the place of revelation.

Othman sent a copy of the verified text to the centers of the Islamic Empire and that is why, copies attributed to Othman exist in Tashkent and Istanbul. About fifty photocopies of that of Tashkent exist in Cairo, London, Kabul and other cities. The oldest documents known to be present today are identical; the same is true for the documents preserved in Europe. The numerous ancient texts that are known to exist all agree except for very minor variations which do not change the general meaning of the text at all. The ancient writing was simpler than that of the present day, due to the absence of diacritical marks. This could make a verb either active or passive and in some instances, masculine or feminine. More often than not, this was hardly of any consequence, since the context indicated the meaning in many cases. The fact that is the Quran is memorized by heart throughout the years since its revelation, helped to eliminate any changes in the meaning. As an example, because of the different Arabic dialects, the Quran calls Mecca as Bakka. But every Muslim on Earth knows that Bakka is Mecca.

After having these several standard copies of the Quran prepared, Othman had all copies kept by different Companions burnt so that all copies of the Quran became uniform in terms of the script, incorporation of accepted readings and the order of chapters, leaving no room for any difference between them.

The entire Muslim communities acknowledged this achievement of Othman with admiration and the Companions supported him in this venture. Ali, the fourth Caliph and the cousin of the Prophet, says, “Say nothing about Othman, unless it be in his favor because, by Allah, whatever he did in connection with the copies of the Quran was done in the presence of all of us and with our advice and counsel.”


A page from the copy of the Holy Qur'an, from the time of Caliph Uthman, kept in Tashkent (part of Sura 7 verses 86-87). The red line, added by us, mark that part of verse 86 that appears in the image. The red square was added by us to mark the beginning of the verse 87.

وَلا تَقعُدوا بِكُلِّ صِراطٍ توعِدونَ وَتَصُدّونَ عَن سَبيلِ اللَّهِ مَن آمَنَ بِهِ وَتَبغونَها عِوَجًا ۚ وَاذكُروا إِذ كُنتُم قَليلًا فَكَثَّرَكُم ۖ وَانظُروا كَيفَ كانَ عاقِبَةُ المُفسِدينَ

وَإِن كانَ طائِفَةٌ مِنكُم آمَنوا بِالَّذي أُرسِلتُ بِهِ وَطائِفَةٌ لَم يُؤمِنوا فَاصبِروا حَتّىٰ يَحكُمَ اللَّهُ بَينَنا ۚ وَهُوَ خَيرُ الحاكِمينَ

As was mentioned above, the ancient writing did not include diacritical marks. Three stages of adding dots and developing diacritical marks are summarized as follows:

1. Dots were put as syntactical marks by Abu Al-Aswad Al Doaly (Ad- Duwali), during the time of Fifth Caliph Mu’awiya (661-680).

2. Letters were marked with a dotting system by Nasr Ibn Asem and Hayy ibn Ya’amor, during the time of Caliph Abd Al-Malek Ibn Marawan (685-705).

3. A complete system of diacritical marks (damma, fataha, kasra) was invented by Al Khaleel Ibn Ahmad Al Faraheedy (d. 786). The father of classical Arabic, the Persian, Sibawayh (d. 796) whose book, known only as Al-Kitāb , is the most well-known book in classical Arabic. It is a four volume treatment of the language.

There are rules for interpreting the Quran. The basic rule is that the Quran interprets itself. This implies that the words are divinely inspired; so any text can be interpreted in the light of other texts where the same subject exists. Moreover, the statements of Muhammad interpreted many verses of the Quran. He was the living example of the teaching of the Quran.

A large number of descriptions, in the Quran, are mentioned in several places in the text, sometimes giving rise to repetitions. Very frequently, a verse will add details to a description that appears elsewhere in a compressed form. Verses associated with scientific facts, like many other subjects dealt with in the Quran were spread throughout the Book without any attempts of classification.

An author of a history book criticized the Quran as “disjointed.” He expected the Quran to be divided into chapters, with each chapter dealing with one subject. He expects the Quran to be like, for example, a physics book, where the first chapter deals with static and the second chapter deals with dynamics and so on. This author fails to understand that the Quran is a Book of Guidance to mankind. It is not a history book; it is not a science book. It is a Book for the soul that is designed with absolute perfection to handle spiritual issues and materialistic subjects. This point will be dealt with in chapter 3.

Finally, two points have to be mentioned about the Quran:

• First , any Arabic speaking layperson realizes the obvious differences in style between the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet. The style of the Quran is obviously heavenly, while the style of Muhammad is clearly human. This right away negates the ignorant idea that the Quran was invented by Muhammad. Next, the Prophet was surrounded by thousands of his companions all of his 23 years of mission time. Therefore, there could not be a mysterious person that dictated the Quran to him in 23 years away from the eyes and ears of his companions.

• Second , the scientific verses in the Quran are overwhelming. They are mainly addressed to the unbelievers, because the true Muslim does not need further proof of the religion of Islam. The inconsistency of the Bible with scientific facts are numerous and well documented. For example, the controversial revelation 7.1 refers to “the four corners of the earth” and thereby indicates that the earth is a flat surface with four corners. There are also other verses in the Bible that convey the same idea; in Matthew 4:8 “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” Certainly, the spherical earth has no four corners and, if the earth were flat, standing atop “an exceedingly high mountain” would allow Jesus to see the whole earth, but there is no mountain tall enough to allow him to see the other side of a spherical earth. At most, one hemisphere would be seen, but not the other.