You might have heard that the Holy Qur’aan was not delivered to the Holy Prophet just once as a complete book, but was revealed to him bit by bit and piece by piece, through the Archangel Jibrail (peace be with him).
The Holy Prophet (God bless him!), had completed forty years of his age and was engaged in a special form of communion with God in the solitude of the Cave of Hira, when the angel first appeared before him and delivered to him the first revelation which reads:
“Read! In the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created, - created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Read! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, - Who taught (the use of) the Pen, - taught man that which he knew not.”(XCVI:1-5)
After an interval, came the second revelation:
“O thou wrapped up (in thy mantle)! Arise and deliver thy warning! And thy Lord do thou magnify! And thy garments keep free from stain! And all abomination shun! Nor expect in giving, any increase (for thyself)!” (LXXIV: 1-6)
Thereafter commenced the general preaching and the invitation went forth to accept the Divine Message. The members of the powerful tribe of the Quraish were invited to assemble and to hear the Holy Prophet’s first sermon on the Mount. The message of the Unity of God was proclaimed aloud, and polytheism and infidelity were condemned in the most unambiguous terms.
In the meantime, revelations continued to come. The Holy Prophet would remember them himself and would teach them to his Companions, like Khadija, Abu Bakr and Ali (God be pleased with them!), so that they could remember them by heart.
A race of illiterates as the Arabs were, there were very few in Mecca who could read or write. There was no paper, and the pen and the inkpot were scarce. It was, indeed, a most difficult task to get the revelations written down as they came. But the arrangement was made. A few of those who knew the art of writing embraced Islam. The verses of the Holy Qur’aan were inscribed on palm-leaves and leather sheets. Some of the Companions were specially charged with the duty of learning the portions of the Qur’aan as they were revealed. Persons were specially selected from among the Companions who would take lessons from the Holy Prophet (peace be with him!). Each lesson consisting of ten verses of the Holy Qur’aan. They would learn those verses by heart and learn their meanings and interpretations as taught by the Holy Prophet, and teach the same to others.
Then came the time of the Migration to Medina. The Muslim group had been growing gradually. At Medina it was knit into a functioning community. Among other things, the Holy Prophet made the arrangements whereby a larger number of Companions could learn to read and write. The work of writing down the revelations of the Qur’aan continued with the fullest exertion. Its compilation in the form of a scripture was attended to.. Zaid bin Thabit, who was a freed slave, was one of those Companions who were entrusted with the task of writing down the Qur’aan. The revelations to come, and they were not only preserved in writing, but the Holy Prophet, under Divine guidance, would fix up the chapters and would instruct the scribes to insert a certain revelation at a certain place in a certain chapter.
Gradually, the delivery of the Word of God reached completion and, at the Farewell Pilgrimage, in the plain of Arafat, came the revelation:
“This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed my favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” (V:4)
Not only was the arrangement of the verses and the arranging of chapters done by the Holy Prophet, but he also fixed the serial arrangement of the chapters, and all that he did under Divine instructions. To carry the work to its logical finish, Abu Bakr the Truthful, Islam’s first Caliph, rendered the service of giving the separately written chapters the form of a consolidated compilation.
Different portions of the Qur’aan written by different people continued to remain, however, in their possession. The people of different places also continued to follow their local pronunciations of Qur’aanic verses.
Then came the period of the third Caliph, Osman (God be pleased with him!). Islam was no more confined to Mecca and Medina, but had crossed the boundaries of the Arabian peninsula and had entered Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Iran. People were entering the fold of Islam in ever-growing numbers. The interest in Qur’aanic recitation was becoming universal. Large numbers of people had only portions of the Qur’aan in their possession. Misunderstandings could arise that only such and such a portion formed the whole Qur’aan, and that the other portions were not part of it. Hence, Caliph Osman got several copies made of the manuscript compiled during Caliph Abu Bakr’s regime and sent those copies to the different centres of the Islamic empire. The copy which Caliph Osman himself used for study and on which, it is said, the drops of his blood fell at the time of his martyrdom, remained preserved first at Medina and was later transferred from there to the Imperial Library at Istanbul by the Turkish Sultans.
All the copies of the Holy Qur’aan which exist in the world today are true copies of that manuscript, and, not only the Muslims, but also the opponents of Islam, find themselves compelled to admit that the Holy Qur’aan has maintained the original purity of its text, even to a letter.
As regards the vowels, it is customary in the Arabic language not to mention them in writing, because they are only symbolic and are not expressed in the letter-form. But when Islam spread among the non-Arab populations, those non-Arab Muslims experienced difficulty in reading the Qur’aan. Hence under the orders of Hajjaj bin Yusuf, the vowel symbols were included in written copies according to the universal form in which thousands of Muslims had learnt the Qur’aanic text by heart, and which form had been transferred faithfully by the “Preservers” (i.e., Huffaz) from generation to generation. The seven styles of intonation which the Holy Prophet (peace be with him!) was himself taught by God, were taught to the people by qualified teachers. All those styles have been preserved down to the present day by hundreds of thousands of people, though there is one style which is more universal than the rest.
Thus, it is clear as daylight that the Qur’aan exists in the world today in its absolute original purity, and that, not only as a written text, but also in the brains of hundreds of thousands of Muslims which makes it impossible for anyone to effect the change, even of a dot.