Sayyidina Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu, the son-in-law of the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam, was an eminent Sahabi of Rasulullah salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam, endowed with many salient and meritorious traits which earned him the guarantee of Jannah from none other than Al Sadiq Rasulullaah salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam. Amongst the many commendable deeds he carried out in his lifetime, his role in preserving the Qur’an is his crowning achievement. Hereunder follows the details of this great accomplishment, while also clarifying the baseless criticisms cast against him.
Uniting the Ummah with a single Mushaf
It is definitely proven that the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam enjoined the writing down of the Qur’an that was revealed to him, and it is proven that he had a scribe or scribes who wrote down the wahi (revelation). Zaid ibn Thabit acquired the nickname of Katib al Nabi or Scribe of Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam because he specialised in writing down the wahi. Al Bukhari entitled a chapter in The Book of the Virtues of the Qur’an (in his Sahih): Chapter on the Scribes of Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, in which he quoted two ahadith:
The first narrates that Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu said to Zaid radiya Llahu ‘anhu: You used to write down the wahi for the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
The second was narrated from al Bara’ radiya Llahu ‘anhu who said:
When the verse:
لَا یَسْتَوِی الْقٰعِدُوْنَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِیْنَ
Not equal are those of the believers who sit [at home]…
was revealed, Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:
اُدْعُ لِيْ زَيْدًا وَلْيَجِئْنِيْ بِللّوْحِ وَالدَّوَاةِ والْكَتِفِ، اَوِ الْكَتِفِ وَالدَّوَاةِ
Call Zaid for me, and let him bring the tablet and inkpot and (camel’s) shoulder-blade, or the (camel’s) shoulder-blade and inkpot.
Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam also used to have the Qur’an written down in Makkah, before the hijrah. One of those who wrote for him was ‘Abdullah ibn Sa’d ibn Abi al Sarh, then he apostatised, then he became Muslim again in the year of the Conquest. That is a well-known story that we have discussed elsewhere. It is well known that the four Rightly Guided Khulafa’ were literate men, so perhaps they used to write down the Qur’an in Makkah. Another indication that the Qur’an was written down in Makkah is the story of how ‘Umar ibn al Khattab became Muslim, when he entered upon his sister and she had a sheet in her hand on which Surah Taha was written. Allah has stated in the Qur’an that it is compiled in pages, in the verse:
رَسُوْلٌ مِّنَ اللهِ یَتْلُوْا صُحُفًا مُّطَهَّرَةً
When the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam passed away, the entire Qur’an was written down, but it was not all put together in one place. It was written on palm leaves and flat stones, and was memorised in the hearts of men, but although it was preserved on pages and in people’s hearts, Jibril ‘alayh al Salam still reviewed the Qur’an once every year, and he reviewed it with him twice in the year in which he passed away.
It may be that Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not compile the Qur’an in a Mushaf because he was still expecting some abrogation of some of its rulings or recitation. When the revelation ended with his death, Allah guided the Rightly Guided Khulafa’ to do that, in fulfilment of His true promise to this ummah to protect it.
Among the Muslim martyrs who fell at al Yamamah were many of those who had memorised the Qur’an. As a result of that, Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu, in consultation with ‘Umar ibn al Khattab radiya Llahu ‘anhu, compiled the Qur’an by collecting it from the skins, bones and palm leaves on which it was written, as well as from the hearts of men. Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu gave this important mission to the great Sahabi Zaid ibn Thabit al Ansari radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
Zaid ibn Thabit radiya Llahu ‘anhu narrated:
Abu Bakr sent for me because so many had been killed at al Yamamah, and I found ‘Umar ibn al Khattab with him too. Abu Bakr said: “‘Umar came to me and said: ‘Too many of the reciters of the Qur’an were killed on the day of al Yamamah, and I am afraid that many more reciters will be killed in other battles, and much of the Qur’an will be lost. I think you should issue orders that the Qur’an be compiled.’ I said to ‘Umar: ‘How can I do something that the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not do?’ ‘Umar said: ‘By Allah, this is a good thing.’ He kept pushing the issue until Allah opened my heart to that to which He had opened ‘Umar’s heart, and I thought of it as ‘Umar did. You are a wise young man, and we trust you. You used to write down the wahi for the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, so seek out the Qur’an and compile it.” Zaid said: “By Allah, if they had ordered me to move a mountain it would not have been a heavier burden than that which they ordered me to do of compiling the Qur’an.”
I sought out the Qur’an from the palm-leaves, flat rocks, men’s hearts, animal skins and shoulder blades (on which it had been preserved), until I found the last part of Surah al Tawbah with Abu Khuzaimah al Ansari, and I did not find it with anyone else:
لَقَدْ جَآءَكُمْ رَسُوْلٌ مِّنْ اَنْفُسِكُمْ عَزِیْزٌ عَلَیْهِ مَا عَنِتُّمْ حَرِیْصٌ عَلَیْكُمْ بِالْمُؤْمِنِیْنَ رَءُوْفٌ رَّحِیْمٌ
Verily, there has come unto you a Messenger [Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He [Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] is anxious over you; for the believers [he is] full of pity, kind, and merciful.
until the end of the Surah.
The pages were kept with Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu during his lifetime, until he passed away, then with ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu until he passed away, then with Hafsah bint ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anha.
From this second stage of the compilation of the Qur’an we may sum up the following:
a. That the compilation of the Holy Qur’an came about as the result of fear that it might be lost due to the deaths of many of the reciters during the riddah wars (wars of apostasy). This indicates that the reciters and scholars at that time were in the forefront of taking action in jihad to support Islam and the Muslims with their ideas, conduct and swords, and they were the best nation ever brought forth for mankind, so all those who come after them should follow their example.
b. The compilation of the Qur’an was based on the principle of al maslahah al mursalah. Nothing is more indicative of that than the words of ‘Umar to Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhuma, when he asked him; “How can we do something that the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not do?” ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhusaid: “It is a good thing.” In some reports it is narrated that he said: “By Allah it is a good thing and it is in the interests of the Muslims. This is the same answer that Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu gave to Zaid ibn Thabit radiya Llahu ‘anhu when he asked the same question.
Whether the report which mentions the interests of the Muslims is sound or not, describing it as a good thing implies the same meaning, which is that the Muslims’ best interests in compiling the Qur’an was initially based on al maslahah al mursalah. Then there was consensus on this point after they all agreed to it by approving of it explicitly or by implication. This indicates that al maslahah al mursalah may be used as the basis for consensus on shar’i rulings, as is established in the books of usul al fiqh (basic principles of jurisprudence).
c. This incident also shows us how the Sahabah used to discuss matters in a calm atmosphere in which love and respect prevailed. Their aim was to achieve that which would serve the interests of all the Muslims, and they would adopt the correct view and open their hearts to it after discussing it and reaching the conclusions. Once they were convinced of the opinion, they would defend it as if it had been their own opinion from the outset. In this spirit it was possible to reach consensus about many rulings that were subject to ijtihad.
Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu chose Zaid ibn Thabit for this important mission because he saw that he had the basic qualities for doing such a task, namely:
As for the method that Zaid radiya Llahu ‘anhu followed in compiling the Qur’an, he did not accept anything of the Qur’an unless it had been written down in the presence of Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and had been memorised by some of the Sahabah. He would not accept memorisation unless it had also been written down, lest there be some mistake or error in the memorisation.
Moreover, he did not accept anything that anyone brought unless he also had two witnesses who could testify that this written material had been written down in the presence of the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and that it was one of the recitations in which the Qur’an had been revealed. Based on this method, Zaid radiya Llahu ‘anhu continued to compile the Qur’an, checking it with precision and caution.
The difference between that which was written at the time of Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and that which was written at the time of Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu is that the Qur’an was written down at the time of Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam but it was scattered on pages, tablets, palm-leaves, stones and other materials, and the Surahs were not all compiled in one place. As for that which was done at the time of Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu, the Qur’an was written on pages with every Surah having its verses put in order, in pages that followed the order of the verses as they had memorised them from the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. So the mission of Zaid ibn Thabit radiya Llahu ‘anhu was to write what had been written at the time of Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam on pages, putting every Surah on a page with its verses in the order in which they had been revealed.
The motive for compiling the Qur’an at the time of ‘Uthman
It was narrated from Anas ibn Malik radiya Llahu ‘anhu that Hudhayfah ibn al Yaman radiya Llahu ‘anhu came to ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu when he was on campaign with the people of Syria and the people of Iraq in the conquest of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Hudhayfah radiya Llahu ‘anhu was very alarmed by the differences in their recitation, so Hudhayfah radiya Llahu ‘anhu said to ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu:
O Amir al Mu’minin, save this Ummah before they differ concerning the Book as the Jews and the Christians did.
‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu sent word to Hafsah radiya Llahu ‘anha saying:
Send us the manuscript so that we may make copies of it, then we will return it to you.
So Hafsah radiya Llahu ‘anha sent it to ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu, and he ordered Zaid ibn Thabit, ‘Abdullah ibn Zubair, Sa’id ibn al ‘As and ‘Abdul Rahman ibn al Harith ibn Hisham to make copies of it.
‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu said to the three Qurayshi men:
If you and Zaid ibn Thabit differ concerning anything of the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraysh, for it was revealed in their dialect.
So they did that, until they had made many copies, then ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu returned the manuscript to Hafsah radiya Llahu ‘anha, and he sent a copy of the mushaf to every region and ordered that all other Qur’anic material, whether it was manuscripts or entire copies, be burnt.
We learn a number of things from this sahih hadith, including the following:
a. The reason that motivated ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu to compile the Qur’an, even though it had been compiled in the proper order in the manuscript of Abu Bakr, was the differences between the Muslim reciters in their recitations, which could have led to great confusion about the Book of Allah, which is the basis of shari’ah and the pillar of religion, the social, political, and moral foundation of the ummah. Some of them even said to one another, my recitation is better than yours.
Hudhayfah radiya Llahu ‘anhu was alarmed by that, and he hastened to speak of his concern to the khalifah and leader of the Muslims, asking him to save the ummah before the differences among them went out of control and became very serious, and the Qur’anic text got tampered with and distorted, as happened among the Jews and Christians where each community was divided against itself with regard to its Book.
b. This Sahih hadith definitely states that the noble Qur’an was compiled in a manuscript that was put together and sewn with one thread. The ummah was unanimously agreed that what was in this manuscript was the Qur’an as it had been received from Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam the last time it was reviewed with Jibril ‘alayh al Salam, and that this manuscript had remained in the care of the first Khalifah Abu Bakr al Siddiq radiya Llahu ‘anhu, then after him it passed into the care of the second khalifah ‘Umar ibn al Khattab radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
Then when ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu knew he was dying, he did not appoint anyone in particular to become khalifah after him, rather he left the matter to the shura committee composed of people with whom the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, was pleased when he passed away, and he left instructions for the manuscript to be kept with his daughter Hafsah, the Mother of the Believers radiya Llahu ‘anha. ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu relied on that manuscript when he compiled the Qur’an, and from it he transcribed his “official” Mushaf.
He issued orders to four of the reciters among the Sahabah who were famous for their precision in memorising the Qur’an, their knowledge of the various recitations, their skill in reciting and their understanding of the Qur’an and its language – three Qurayshis and one Ansari who was Zaid ibn Thabit radiya Llahu ‘anhu, who had undertaken the first compilation at the time of Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu at the suggestion of ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu. According to some reports, the ones whom ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu ordered to write the Mushaf were twelve men, among them Ubay ibn Ka’b radiya Llahu ‘anhu and others from among Quraysh and the Ansar.
c. We may understand from this that the conquests at the time of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu were undertaken with the permission and on the command of the khalifah, and that military decision-making was done in Madinah, and the Islamic provinces were all subject to the command of the khalifah ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu at that time. Rather there is evidence that there was consensus among the Sahabah and Tabi’in in all regions, accepting ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu as khalifah.
The fact that Hudhayfah ibn al Yaman radiya Llahu ‘anhu came to Madinah to sort out the issue of the people’s dispute about the recitation of Qur’an indicates that the major reference point for shar’i matters was consultation with the khalifah in Madinah, and that Madinah was still the centre for the Sunnah and the place where the fuqaha’ of the Sahabah were concentrated.
‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu assembled the Muhajirin and Ansar and consulted them about this matter, among whom were the prominent figures of the ummah and the leaders and scholars among the Sahabah, at the head of whom was ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu. ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu presented this issue for discussion to the elite of the ummah and its guided leaders, and they exchanged views and discussed the matter, until he was aware of their views and they were aware of his.
They responded frankly to his views and left no room for doubt in Muslim hearts, and it was clear to people throughout the earth what was the conclusion of their meeting. No dissent was known at that time and no one objected to what they agreed to. The status of the Qur’an is not something that could be hidden from an ordinary individual, let alone the scholars and a’immah.
‘Uthman, radiya Llahu ‘anhu did not introduce an innovation by compiling the Qur’an, rather that had been done before him by Abu Bakr al Siddiq radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Similarly, it was not his own idea, rather he did it after consulting the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum, when they approved of this action and said: What a good idea. They also said: He did well (i.e., in what he did with regard to the Mushafs).
Mus’ab ibn Sa’d met the companions of Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, when ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu burned the mushafs, and he saw that they approved of this action on his part.‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu rebuked anyone who criticised ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu for that and said:
O people, do not go to extremes with regard to ‘Uthman, and do not say anything but good about him, for by Allah he did not do what he did – with regard to the Mushaf – until after he had consulted all of us – i.e., the Sahabah – and by Allah, if I were the khalifah I would have done what he has done.
After this consensus of the part of these virtuous people who were among the best of creation on this blessed action, it becomes clear to everyone who is not influenced by whims and desires that every Muslim must approve of and accept this action done by ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu, by means of which the noble Qur’an was preserved.
Al Qurtubi said in al Tafsir:
This action was done by ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu after he had assembled the Muhajirin and Ansar and most of the prominent Muslims, and consulted them about that, and they agreed to compile it on the basis of what was proven to be sound of the well-known recitation that was narrated from Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and they dispensed with all others. They approved of his view, and it was the correct view.
Ibn al Tin said:
The difference between the compilation of Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu and the compilation of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu is that the compilation of Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu came about because he was afraid that something of the Qur’an might be lost with the loss of its bearers, because it had not been compiled in one place. So he compiled it in pages, with the verses of each Surah in the proper order, as dictated by Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
The compilation of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu came about because of the variety in recitations, as each person read it in his own dialect, of which there were many. That led to each person saying that the others were wrong, and he was afraid that the matter would get out of control, so he had these manuscripts copied into a single Mushaf, with the Surahs in order, and he adopted the dialect of the Quraysh in exclusion to all others, on the grounds that it had been revealed in their dialect, even though that was room for reciting it in other dialects too, so as to ward off hardship from the beginning, as he saw that there was no longer any need for the variant readings, so he limited it to one dialect.
Al Qadi Abu Bakr al Baqilani said:
Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu did not aim to put the whole Qur’an together between two covers; rather he aimed to unite them in following the proven recitations that were known from Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and cancel out all others. He forced them to adopt a Mushaf in which there was no change in the order of verses and no commentary written alongside what had been revealed, and no abrogated verses written alongside what had not been abrogated, lest that lead to any corruption or confusion to those who came after them.
Al Harith al Muhasibi said:
What is well known among the people is that the one who compiled the Qur’an was ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu, but that is not the case; rather ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu made the people adhere to one recitation based on the choice made by him and those of the Muhajirin and Ansar who were present, when there was the fear that fitnah might result from differences between the people of Iraq and Syria with regard to which dialect should be used when reading Qur’an. But prior to that, the books containing Qur’an were readable in all seven dialects in which the Qur’an had been revealed. The first one to compile it was Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu, and ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu said: If I were to become khalifah, I would adopt the Mushafs that were written at the time of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
Al Qurtubi said:
If it were said: ‘Why did ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu compel all the people to adopt his Mushaf when Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu had already done that and finished with it? The answer is that ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu did not intend to compile the Mushaf do you not see that he sent word to Hafsah radiya Llahu ‘anha saying: Send us the manuscript so that we may make copies of it, then we will return it to you. ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu only did that because the people had begun to differ in their recitation due to the Sahabah spreading through different lands. The matter was only getting worse and the disputes about recitation were only becoming more intense. Everyone was adamant that his recitation was correct, and the incident took place between the people of Syria and Iraq, as was narrated by Hudhayfah radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
When ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu finished having the Mushafs copied, he sent a Mushaf to every region, and ordered them to burn every Mushaf that was not in accordance with the Mushaf that he sent out. They differed as to the number of Mushafs that was sent out to the different regions. It was said that there were four, and this is the view of the majority of scholars. And it was said that there were five, or six, or seven, or eight. As for the view that there were four, it was said that one was left in Madinah and the others were sent to Syria, Kufah and Basrah.
As for the view that there were five, it was said that one went to each of the places mentioned, and the fifth was sent to Makkah. As for the view that there were six, it was said that five were sent to the places mentioned, and they differed concerning the sixth; it was said that ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu kept it for himself, or that he sent it to Bahrain. As for the view that there were seven, six went to the places mentioned, and the seventh was sent to Yemen. As for the view that there were eight, seven were sent to the places mentioned and the eighth was ‘Uthman’s copy that he used to read, and it is the one that he was holding when he was killed.
With each Mushaf, ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu sent teachers to teach the people how to read it in accordance with the way it is written and in accordance with recitations that are narrated in sound, mutawatir reports. ‘Abd-Allah ibn al Sa’ib went with the Mushaf that went to Makkah; Mughirah ibn Shihab went with the Mushaf that went to Syria; Abu ‘Abdul Rahman al Sulami went with the Mushaf that went to Kufah; ‘Amir ibn Qais went with the Mushaf that went to Basrah, and ‘Uthman told Zaid ibn Thabit to teach the people using the Mushaf that remained in Madinah.
 Al Bukhari, Kitab Fada’il al Qur’an, no. 4686
 Surah al Nisa’: 95
 Al Bukhari, Kitab Tafsir al Qur’an, no. 4593, Ibn Abi Shaybah 4/232 (19511)
 Surah al Bayyinah: 2
 Al Bukhari, Kitab Fada’il al Qur’an, no. 4998
 Al Madinah al Nabawiyyah Fajr al Islam wa al ‘Asr al Rashidi, p. 240, quoting from Fath al Bari, 9/12
 Hurub al Riddah wa Bina’ al Dawlah al Islamiyyah, by Ahmed Sa’id, p. 145
 This is referring to the battle of al Yamamah against the liar Musaylamah and his supporters. (Author)
 This may be understood as meaning that he did not compile the Qur’an in a Mushaf. (Author)
 These are the qualities which made Zaid radiya Llahu ‘anhu more suited than others for this task. (Author)
 i.e., from the things that was with me and with others. (Author)
 Surah al Tawbah: 128
 Al Bukhari, no. 4986
 Al ljtihad fi al Fiqh al lslami, by ‘Abdul Salam al Sulaimani, p. 127
 Al Tafawwuq wa al Najabah ‘ala Nahj al Sahabah by Hamad al ‘Ajami, p. 73
 Siyar A’lam al Nubala’, by Imam al Dhahabi, 2/431
 Al Tafawwuq wa al Najabah ‘ala Nahj al Sahabah, p. 74
 Al lnshirah wa Raf’ al Diq bi Sirah Abi Bakr al Siddiq, by al Sallabi, p. 206
 Al Madinah al Nabawiyyah Fajr al Islam wa al ‘Asr al Rashidi, 2/241
 Al Bukhari, Kitab Fada’il al Qur’an, no. 4987
 ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, by Sadiq ‘Arjun, p. 171
 Al Madinah an-Nabawiyyah Fajr al Islam wa al ‘Asr al Rashidi, 2/244
 ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, by Sadiq ‘Arjun, p. 175
 Fitnah Maqtal ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, 1/78
 Al Tarikh al Saghir by al Bukhari, 1/94; its isnad is hasan li ghayrihi (hasan because of corroborating evidence).
 Fath al Bari, 9/18; its isnad is hasan.
 Fitnah Maqtal ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, 1/78
 Al Jami’ li Ahkam al Qur’an, 1/88
 ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, by Sadiq ‘Arjun, p. 178
 Al Jami’ li Ahkam al Qur’an, 1/87
 Adwa’ al Bayan fi Tarikh al Qur’an, p. 77
 op cit., p. 78Back to top