Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Koran - A new testament - A process of preservation

This is a continuation of my posts in the series "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
Muhammad received his first revelation, delivered to him by the angel Gabriel, in 610 CE. These revelations continued for approximately twenty two years until Muhammad's death in 632 CE. The revelations were delivered to Muhammad in the form of short Suras, or chapters, which, during the revelation, Muhammad committed to memory and then taught them to his family, friends, and follows. These were taught to recite the revelation word-for-word just as Muhammad had been taught to recite them by Gabriel.

The Koran, primarily and fundamentally, is meant to be recited. This may seem odd to those who grew up in cultures where written records were esteemed over the oral transfer of knowledge. However, in the nomadic desert society in which the early Muslims lived, oral recitation greatly assisted the memorization and transmission of the Koranic verses to believers, many of whom were illiterate, The Koran itself speaks of the importance of its recitation.
"and a Koran We have divided [parsed out in sections], for thee to recite it to mankind at intervals [by slow degrees], and We have sent it down successively [piecemeal]." (Koran 17:107)
As Muhammad began to teach his friends and family to recite the Koran, they began to write down what he taught them so that they might preserve and remember the words they had been taught. During his life, the Koran existed in this form; scraps of it preserved on "parchment, wooden planks, or palm leaves" (The History of the Qur’anic Text, Muhammad Mustafa Al-a`zami) and in the memories of the believers. However, after Muhammad's death, the benefit of a compiled and standardized Koran was quickly realized.
"About a year after his death, at the direction of Abu-Bakr, his father-in-law and immediate successor, Zayd, the chief ansar or amanuensis of the Prophet, collected the scattered fragments of the Koran “from palmleaves, and tablets of white stone, and from the breasts of men,” but without any regard to chronological order or continuity of subjects." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 44. The Koran, and the Bible)
The Suras were generally arranged from largest to smallest rather than chronologically. To westerners this might seem odd, but it is no different from the Jewish book of Psalms which too has no apparent (or overt) chronological order. Once the job of compilation was complete, all other copies of the Koran, including the fragments from which it was compiled, were burned, thus ensuring a single authoritative and standardized version of the Koran.
"With the task complete, the ink on the final copy dry, and duplicate copies dispatched, there was no need for the numerous fragments of the Qjir'an circulating in people's hands. So all such fragments were burned. Mus'ab bin Sa'd asserts that the people were pleased with 'Uthman's decision; at the very least no one voiced any objections.' Other reports confirm this unanimous approval." (The History of the Qur’anic Text, Muhammad Mustafa Al-a`zami)
Thus, the claim is that the Koran had existed in its present form, unaltered, for over fourteen hundred years since it was first recorded by those who heard it from the prophet Muhammad. This claim is more than tradition for many Muslim believers, it is also a point of faith. Any suggestion that there may have been corruptions or alterations to the Koran is often met with vehement objection by believers, especial radical and fundamentalist believers. Unfortunately, this has often stifled any development of historical, socialistic, and critical examination of the Koran, its development, and its preservation until today. However, our concern here is not so much the history of the Koran but what it contains and what it has to say. To this we will turn our attentions to next.

More to come...
David Robison

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