During the caliphate of Abu Bakr mention is made by Zaid of two verses which he said he found only with Abu Khuzaimah al-Ansari. The full text of the hadith on this subject reads as follows: ‘I found the last verse of Surat at-Tauba (Repentance) with Abi Khuzaima al- Ansari, and I did not find it with anybody other than him. The verse is: ‘Verily there has come to you an Apostle from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty … (Sahib al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 478).
Insofar as the text speaks for itself without further enquiry, we can see quite plainly that, in his search for the Quran, Zaid was dependent on one source alone for the last two verses of Surat at-Tauba. At face value this evidence suggests that no one else knew these verses and that, had they not been found with Abu Khuzaimah, they would have been omitted from the Quran text. The incident suggests immediately that, far from there being numerous huffaz who knew the whole Quran off by heart to the last letter, it was, in fact, so widely spread that some passages were only known to a few of the companions – in this case, only one.
This ex facie interpretation of the narrative naturally undermines the popular sentiment among Muslims of later generations that the Quran was preserved intact because its contents were all known perfectly by all the sahaba of Muhammad who had undertaken to memorise it.
A more convenient explanation for the hadith had to be found and we find it expressed in the following quotation from Desai’ s booklet: The meaning of the above statement of Hadhrat Zaid should now be very clear that among those who had written the verses under the direct command and supervision of Rasulullah Khuzaimah was the only person from whom he ( Zaid) found the last two verses of Surah Baqraah written, (Desai, The Quraan Unimpeachable, p. 20).
Although the hadith as recorded by al-Bukhari makes no mention of this, Desai claims that the statement that Abu Khuzaima alone had the last two verses of Surat at-Tauba means that he was in fact the only one who had them in writing under Muhammad’ s direct supervision. He goes on to say: It was known beyond the slightest shadow of doubt that these two verses were part of the Quran. Hundreds of Sahabah knew the verses from memory. Furthermore, those Sahabah who had in their possession the complete recording of the Quran in writing also had these particular verses in their written records. But, as far as having written them under the direct supervision of Rasulullah was concerned; only Abu Khuzaimah had these verses. ( Desai, The Quran Unimpeachable, p. 21).
The maulana gives no evidences whatsoever in support of these statements. Nowhere in the earliest records of the Hadith literature is there any suggestion that hundreds of Muhammad’s companions knew these verses and that others had them in writing, and that what Zaid intended to say was that Abu Khuzaima alone had them in writing directly from Muhammad. Desai’s omission of any documentation for his statement is, in the circumstances, most significant.
Siddique, in his article in Al-Balaagh ( p. 2), also claims that when Zaid said ” I could not find a verse” he actually meant he could not find it in writing. As said before, there is nothing in the hadith text itself to yield such an interpretation. From what source, then, do these learned authors obtain this view? It is derived from the following extract which is taken from the Fath al- Baari fi Sharh al-Bukhari of Ahmad ibn Ali ibn Muhammad al-Asqalani ibn Hajar, the translation appearing in Burton’s The Collection of the Qur an on pages 127 and 128:”It does not follow from Zaid’ s saying that he had failed to find the aya from Surat at Tauba in the possession of anyone else, that at that time it was not among those who had learnt their Qur an from the Companions, but had not heard it direct from the Prophet. What Zaid was seeking was the evidence of those who had their Qur’ an texts direct from the Prophet. … The correct interpretation of Zaid’ s remark that he had failed to find the aya with anyone else is that he had failed to find it in writing, not that he had failed to find those who bore it in their memories. (Fath al-Baari, Vol. 9, p. 12).”
The source from which Desai and Siddique derive their opinions is not from the earliest records of the compilation of the Quran but a much later commentary on the Sahih al-Bukhari done by the famous Muslim author al- sqalani ibn Hajar who was born in 773 A. H. (1372 A. D.) and died in 852 A. H. The earliest source for the interpretation that Zaid was looking for the verses only in authorised written sources thus dates no less than eight centuries after Muhammad’s death by which time, as is the case to this day, it had become fashionable to hold the view that the Quran had been widely known to perfection by all the companions of Muhammad who had memorised it. It is, therefore, a convenient interpretation read into the text of the hadith to sustain a more recent supposition. There is nothing in the text of the hadith itself, however, to support this interpretation. The extract continues with some very interesting comments:
“Besides, it is probable that when Zaid found it with Abu Khuzaima the other companions recalled having heard it. Zaid himself certainly recalled that he had heard it. (Fath al- Baari, op. cit.)”. While Desai boldly states that it was known “beyond the slightest shadow of doubt” that the last two verses of Surat at-Tauba were part of the Quran and that they were known by “hundreds of Sahabah” in their memories and by others who had recorded them in writing, his source only goes so far as to suggest that it is “probable” that when Zaid produced them from Abu Khuzaima, the other companions recalled having heard them. A cautious suggestion that the others may have recalled having heard the verses has been transformed by Desai into a bold declaration that they were known by hundreds of them without the aid of recollection “beyond the slightest shadow of doubt”.
Here is clear evidence that modern Muslim writers are out to establish a cherished hypothesis – the unquestionable perfection of the Quran text – instead of objectively assessing the factual evidences as they stand. Desai’s source is only a comparatively recent work of interpretation and yet, even here, he cannot resist the temptation to expand it into wholesale allegations of fact.
The collection of the Quran by Zaid under Abu Bakr was a gathering together of the texts of the Quran from widely divergent sources and materials where the Quran was scattered, so divergent that at the Battle of Yamama some passages were irretrievably lost and, in another case, only one of Muhammad’ s companions was aware of the text. “I searched for the Quran” Zaid declared, indicating that he did not expect to find all the texts of the book in the memory of any one man or on written materials in any one place.
The Quran thus compiled was the product of a widespread search for what was known in the memories of many men and had been inscribed upon various materials. This type of source-material hardly supports the notion and claim that the Quran, as eventually collected, was perfect to the last dot and letter. The Muslim hypothesis is the product of wishful sentiment; it is not based on an objective and realistic assessment of the facts contained in the earliest historical records of the initial collection of the Quran.
Abridged from Jam ‘al-Quran by John Gilchrist