The objection has been levelled against Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu that he burnt copies of the Noble Qur’an, which is disrespectful and belittles the Qur’an, and ultimately forbidden in shari’ah.
It is imperative to understand the background to the issue first, before contemplating upon the reply to this allegation. At the time when this incident occurred a number of various tribes — from various quarters of the Arabian peninsula —had embraced Islam. In the early years of Islam, the Arabs would recite the Noble Qur’an in their respective dialects, for which permission had been granted. This was later brought to an end and all Muslims were given the command to recite in the dialect of the Quraysh.
We have discussed this previously in our work Sirah Sayyidina ‘Ali al Murtada radiya Llahu ‘anhu under the topic, “the help of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu in gathering the Qur’an in the era of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu”, one may refer to it for further detail.
During the khilafah of Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu, in 24 A.H and 25 A.H, different tribes of the Arabs had gathered in various areas and would recite the Qur’an in their differing dialects, in which they differed. This incident took place in Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The famous Sahabi, Sayyidina Hudhayfah ibn al Yaman radiya Llahu ‘anhu was present there at that time and disliked the differences in the variant recitations. He felt that if these differences were to remain, then just as the Jews and Christians differed in the divine scriptures, so too would the Muslims also differ with regards to the Noble Qur’an; which would inevitably result in division and disunity.
As a result, Sayyidina Hudhayfah ibn al Yaman radiya Llahu ‘anhu brought it to the attention of the khalifah, ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu:
يا امير المؤمنين! ادرك هذه الامة قبل ان يختلفوا في الكتاب اختلاف اليهود والنصارى
Accordingly, Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu consulted with the senior Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum, amongst whom was Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. In the light of their decision, the copy of the Qur’an that was compiled in the era of Sayyidina Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu, and in the possession of Umm al Mu’minin Sayyidah Hafsah radiya Llahu ‘anha, was taken and a uniform copy was prepared in the dialect of the Quraysh. These Masahif were then sent to the people of Sham, Egypt, Basrah, Kufah, Makkah and Yemen. One copy was kept in Madinah.
The Shia scholars present the detail of this in the following way:
وبعث بمصحف الى الكوفة ومصحف الى البصرة ومصحف الى المدينة ومصحف الى المكة ومصحف الى المصر ومصحف الى الشام ومصحف الى البحرين ومصحف الى اليمن ومصحف الى الجزيرة وامر الناس ان يقرؤا على نسخة واحدة وكان سبب ذالك انه بلغه ان الناس يقولون قرآن آل فلان فاراد ان يكون نسخة واحدة
‘Uthman sent copies of the Mushaf to Kufah, Basrah, Madinah, Makkah, Egypt, Sham, Bahrain, Yemen and al Jazirah. He commanded the people to recite from this one Mushaf. The cause of this was that news reached ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan that people were saying the Qur’an of so and so family. Thus he intended thereby that there be only one Mushaf.
In order to increase the knowledge of the readers, this point is written here that the senior scholars have mentioned that about five years, from 25 A.H to 30 A.H, were spent in preparing these copies of the Noble Qur’an. These Masahif were sent to the different cities of the Muslims (as explained above). One Mushaf was kept for the people of Madinah, and Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu kept one copy for himself. These Masahif were compiled under the supervision of the famous and expert Qurra’ (of Sahabah); and the Muslim ummah thanked Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu for rendering this great service.
It is stated in the marginalia of Tarikh al Islam:
وقد استمر على الجماعة في نسخ المصاحف مدة خمس سنين من سنة خمس وعشرين الى سنة ثلاثين في التحقيق ثم ارسلوا المصاحف المكتوبة الى الامصار وقد اختفظ عثمان بمصحف منها لاهل المدينة بمصحف لنفسه وكانت تلك المصاحف تحت اشراف قراء مشهورين في الاقراء والمعارضة بها فشكرت الامة صنيع عثمان رضي الله تعالى عنه
A group continued with gathering the Masahif for five years, from 25 A.H to 30 A.H. They then sent the copies of these Masahif to the cities. ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan kept one of these copies for the people of Madinah, and a Mushaf for himself. These were compiled under the supervision of the famous qurra’ and the ummah thanked ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu for his service he rendered.
The famous scholar Badr al Din Zarkashi rahimahu Llah spoke about this great service of Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu in the following words:
لقد وفق لامر عظيم ورفع الاختلاف وجمع الكلمة واراح الامة
He was granted the ability to do carry out this great service, to remove the differences of opinion and gather the ummah on one recitation. He gave relief to the Muslims (and the ummah was blessed with unity).
The opposition level objections against this great service of Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu, that he had copies of the Noble Qur’an burnt, and thereby disrespected the Noble Qur’an, which is forbidden in Islam. However, the reality is that the rebels had levelled this objection against Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu at first and those who came later merely repeated it with added exaggeration. The answer to this objection was given in the era of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum and it was clarified that what Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu did was burn those copies that had the interpretations written alongside the actual words of the Qur’an (making it difficult to discern between interpretation and actual Qur’anic text. Besides this, some would write the abrogated words (in terms of recitation), together with the words of the Noble Qur’an in their personal copies of the Mushaf.
Initially there was no fear of confusion, but if those copies of the Qur’an were to have remained, then there would have been great confusion amongst the future generations, who would be unable to discern between the original words of the Qur’an and the interpretations, or between what was abrogated and not abrogated? Therefore, with the consultation of the majority of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum (among whom was Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu), Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu destroyed these copies and that which was not the text of the Qur’an.
Hafiz Ibn Kathir rahimahu Llah has mentioned this issue in al Bidayah wa al Nihayah in the following text:
واما المصاحف فانما حرق ما واقع فيه اختلاف وابقى لهم المتفق عليه كما ثبت في العرصة الاخيرة (يعني التي درسها جبريل عليه السلام على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم في آخر سني حياته
As for the Masahif, those copies were burnt regarding which there were differences and those which were agreed were kept — as established in the last recital (i.e. that which Sayyidina Jibril ‘alayh al Salam revised with Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam in the last year of his life).
Moreover, there is support for this in the ahadith, as al Bukhari states:
وامر عثمان بما سواه من القرآن في كل صحيفة او مصحف ان يحرق …الخ
Furthemore, the fourth Khalifah, Sayyidina ‘Ali al Murtada radiya Llahu ‘anhu, during his khilafah, clarified this issue, once and for all, to remove any doubts in the minds of the people:
يقول يايها الناس! لا تغلوا في عثمان رضي الله تعالى عنه ولا تقولوا له الا خيرا في المصاحف واحراق المصاحف فوالله ما فعل الذي فعل في المصاحف الا عن ملامنا جميعا
O people, do not exaggerate with regards to ‘Uthman and do not say anything but good regarding him. With regards to the Masahif and burning the Masahif; whatever he did, he did not do it except after consulting with us.
Therefore, no criticism should be directed against him in this regard.
In the same narration, a little ahead, Suwaid ibn Ghafalah narrates the statement of Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu:
سمعت عليا يقول رحم الله عثمان لو وليته لفعلت ما فعل في المصاحف
I heard ‘Ali saying: “May Allah have mercy on ‘Uthman, if I was the ruler, I would have done the same as ‘Uthman with regards to the Masahif.
Similarly, the famous scholar Badr al Din Zarkashi has written in his Tafsir:
‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu was a just ruler; he had no enmity at all. In the compilation of the Qur’an, he did not adopt any form of stubbornness or deviation. He did whatever was necessary. Because of this, no one refuted him, but they approved of his action and it is counted as part of his virtues, to the extent that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu said:
لو وليت ما ولى عثمان لعملت بالمصاحف ما عمل
If I was put in charge of what Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu was put in charge of, I would have done the same thing with regards to the Masahif as what ‘Uthman did.
In the light of the above explanation, it has been clarified that whatever Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu destroyed, was that which was not the actual Qur’an. In this matter, the senior Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum, including Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu assisted and supported Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu; and in accordance to their view, the plan of action was carried out with regards to the Masahif. Therefore, Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu was not guilty of disrespecting or belittling the Qur’an, and there is no permissibility to make him a target of criticism.
For the sake of clarity, it is worthy to mention that in the beginning, Sayyidina ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud radiya Llahu ‘anhu had a different opinion with regards to the Masahif and he was firm upon his view, which differed with the rest of the Sahabah. However, later on, when Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu encouraged Sayyidina Ibn Mas’ud radiya Llahu ‘anhu to follow the rest of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum and invited him to remain with the main body (of Muslims), he retracted his view and agreed with the rest of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum.
Subsequently, in al Bidayah, Ibn Kathir rahimahu Llah has mentioned this detail in the following text:
فكتب اليه عثمان رضي الله عنه يدعوه الى اتباع الصحابة فيما اجمعوا عليه من المصلحة في ذالك وجمع الكلمة وعدم الاختلاف فاتاب واجاب الى المتابعة وترك المخافلة رضي الله عنهم اجمعين
‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu wrote to him, calling him to follow the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum in the matter wherein they agreed upon, because of the expediency in it and in gathering them on one recital and not to stay on his differing view. He repented and responded by following their opinion and leaving his differing view. May Allah, be pleased with them all.
Ibn ‘Abdul Barr rahimahu Llah is a famous scholar among the Malikis. In his famous work Kitab al Tamhid li ma fi al Muwattaʾ min al Ma’ani wa l-Asanid, he states in the fourth volume:
واجمع العلماء ان ما في مصحف عثمان بن عفان وهو الذي بايدي المسلمين اليوم في اقطار الارض حيث كانوا هو القرآن المحفوظ الذي لا يجوز لاحد ان يتجاوزه ولا تحل الصلاة لمسلم الا بما فيه …انما حل مصحف عثمان رضي الله عنه هذا المحل لاجماع الصحابة وسائر الامة عليه ولم يجمعوا على ما سواه وبالله التوفيق …الخ
There is consensus of the scholars of the ummah upon the Mushaf ‘Uthmani, it is the very same Mushaf in the hands of the Muslims in the corners of the globe today. This Noble Qur’an is protected and it is not permissible for a person to go beyond it and the salah of any Muslim will not be valid except with it. The rank and status that this Mushaf ‘Uthmani has acquired, is on account of this joint effort of Muslim Ummah and there can be no consensus on anything else. And Allah grants divine ability.
وقد تولى الخلافة بعد هؤلاء الشيوخ الثلاثة امير المؤمنين علي رضي الله عنه فامضى عملهم واقر مصحف عثمان رضي الله عنه برسمه وتلاوته في جميع امصار ولايته وبذالك انعقد اجماع المسلمين في صدر الاول …الخ
At this point, we must pay attention to this point that after the first three khulafa’, the Khilafah of Amir al Mu’minin Sayyidina ‘Ali al Murtada radiya Llahu ‘anhu was established, and he maintained the deeds and actions of the previous khulafa’. One of them was that he kept the Mushaf ‘Uthmani in its place and it was recited in all the countries and cities and every year during Ramadan al Mubarak, this very same Mushaf ‘Uthmani was recited in Tarawih and no other Qur’an was recited in the era of Sayyidina ‘Ali al Murtada radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Because of this, in the first century, there was consensus on this Mushaf ‘Uthmani and it had acquired tawatur through the generations.
In the light of the above texts, this communal action during the era of Sayyidina ‘Ali al Murtada radiya Llahu ‘anhu was a very strong reason to show that the action of Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu with regards to gathering the Qur’an was totally correct. It is as though this action during the khilafah of Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu is a clear proof of the correct nature of this issue and it has the status of a complete testimony. There remains no need for any further testimony to prove that the Mushaf ‘Uthmani is correct.
Subsequently, a famous scholar, Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn Abi Bakr, writes in his work:
فعل ذالك عثمان ولو كان منكرا لكان علي رضي الله عنه غيره لما صار الامر اليه فلما لم يغيره علم ان عثمان كان مصيبا في ما فعل
Whatever ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu did with regards to the Mushaf, if it was wrong, then when ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu became the khalifah he would have changed it and when Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu did not change it, we learn that ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu was correct.
During his era of khilafah, Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu carried out this great service and in order to save the Muslim ummah from differences in the Qur’an, he adopted this plan and preserved the Noble Qur’an. This service was carried out with the agreement and consensus of the senior Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum (as we have mentioned with references above). The Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum classified this action as correct, and together with this, they did not have difference of opinion. So, this was the practice of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum and it is also referred to as tawatur through the generations (Tawatur Tabaqati). Therefore, based on the practice of the Sahabah and tawatur through the generations, this matter has been classified as consensus and Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:
لا تجتمع امتي على الضلالة
My ummah will not gather upon deviation.
We have mentioned the related aspects to this objection on Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu and we have discussed this issue at length in Sirah Sayyidina ‘Ali al Murtada (p. 191 – 204).
We request the readers to ponder over this great service of Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu and to decide for themselves to what extent is this objection relevant? May Allah guide the Muslims and grant us the ability to remain in agreement on those issues which were agreed upon. And Allah alone is the guide.
 Mishkat pg. 193
 Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah vol. 7 pg. 216, Fath al Bari vol. 9 pg. 17
 Tarikh Ya’qubi vol. 2 pg. 170
 Marginalia of Tarikh al Islam vol. 2 pg. 103
 Tafsir al Burhan fi ‘Ulum al Qur’an part 1 pg. 339
 Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah vol. 7 pg. 171
 Al Bukhari vol. 2 pg. 746
 Kitab al Masahif Hafiz Abu Bakr ‘Abdullah ibn Abi Dawood al Sijistani pg. 22, 23
 Kitab al Masahif pg. 23
 Tafsir al Burhan fi ‘Ulum al Qur’an vol. 1 pg. 240
 Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah vol. 7 pg. 217
 Kitab al Tamhid li ma fi al Muwattaʾ min al Ma’ani wa al Asanid vol. 4 pg. 278, 279
 Marginalia of al ‘Awasim min al Qawasim by Muhibb al Din al Khatib pg. 69
 Kitab al Tamhid pg. 185