Whenever the Messenger (peace be upon him) received a new revelation, he (peace be upon him) would recite it to the disciples, they would memorise it. There were very few people who could read and write, therefore the oral tradition was the common mode of learning, they liked memorising poetry and stories. The Messenger (peace be upon him) himself memorised it as well. So, like many of his disciples, he was Hafiz of the entire Quran. Even today a Muslim cannot fulfil his religious obligations without memorising certain portions of the Quran. The word Quran means ‘the reading’. The angel Gabriel would advise the Prophet (peace be upon him) where the new revelation was to be placed in terms of the order.
A group of disciples were assigned the responsibility of writing the entire Quran as it was previously written on pieces of bone, leather and whatever was readily available. According to Prof MAS Abdel Haleem, there were 29 scribes. So, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) passed away in 632 CE the entire Quran was preserved as a written document.
In the battle of Yamama in 633 CE many disciples who had memorised the Quran were martyred, so Abu Bakr the first Caliph ordered that a written copy of the whole Quran should be made and stored with him. A committee of scribes under the leadership of Zaid ibn Thabit was given this task. Zaid asked all the scribes to gather the passages they had and stipulated three conditions for authenticity:
- They must have been written under the orders of the Messenger (peace be upon him).
- Two witnesses had to testify that these were written in the presence of the Messenger (peace be upon him).
- All the written passages were checked against the memory of those who had memorised them.
Later Usman the third Caliph ordered five copies to be made and distributed to the different parts of the Muslim world. “This was the official copy of the Quran and this became known as Usmanic codex and it has been recognised throughout the Muslim world for the last 14 centuries as the authentic document of the Quran as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad” (The Quran by MAS Abdel Haleem).
Three copies of the original Usmani Quran remain preserved today. According to Ahmed Von Denefer, there is a copy in the Topkapi museum in Istanbul, Turkey, another one in a museum in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and the third in the mosque of al Hussein in Cairo, Egypt. Recently, two pages of the Quran were discovered in the University of Birmingham in 2018, researchers believe that these date back to the time of Usman making them the oldest fragments of the Quran.