By Syed Manzoor Alam, New Age Islam
October 7, 2013
Now in this final article we can move to the next area. The first question the some people might say that Muslims’ approach to the Quran is different from the High Criticism of the Bible. When the High Criticism began in the 19th century to verify the authenticity of the Bible (both Old and New Testament), the only way of verification was through manuscripts. And the shocking thing is that these manuscripts are not even in the original language.
For example Jesus spoke Aramaic but there is no original manuscript found which Jesus spoke till date, what we have is the translations. The Christian world boasts of twenty-four thousand manuscripts of the Bible but no two are identical. The Old Testament was originally in Hebrew and the New Testament was in Greek and in parts Aramaic; however we don’t have the original Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament.
So the only way for the Jewish and Christian scholars to objectively study the Bible was to go to these manuscripts (remember these were not original ones) that were available in museums, some archaeological findings might confirm or disconfirm and the debate still continues. It is quite strange to know that these western scholars apply the same approach to dealing with the Quran. Like I said earlier if all the copied of the Quran would have been destroyed, yet the Quran would have remained, exclusively through memory.
Some people might not be aware that the script that was used at the time of recording the Quran had no dots to distinguish letters. For example if there is one dot underneath then it is ‘ba’ and if it is at the top then it is ‘nun’ etc. Secondly there was nothing which is called the diacritical remarks. For example in the Quran we have the marks of ‘fatha’, ‘kasra’ etc which make a difference in reading. So the main problem is that all scriptures cannot be categorised under just one roof, some can be, but not all, and certainly not the Quran. The High Criticism should not be imposed on the Quran, just as it is imposed on the Bible, because the Quran and the Bible are two different books, having different styles and very different history.
Even if someone can produce the entire Quran (the manuscripts, I mean) of the time of the Prophet yet it would not have been enough to preserve it because you did not know how to pronounce. What is unique is the memorization of the Quran which has a continuous chain of almost 1500 years.
But in addition to this, because some people find it impossible as to how can anyone depend on the memory of people to keep in mind all the verses of the Quran, we notice firstly that while writing was known among Arabs in pre-Islamic Arabia, the majority of the Arabs depended on memory. To have their lineage in mind they depended on memory, to keep their history in mind- they depended on memory; for poetry, they depended on memory etc.
There is story; it could be an exaggeration but it conveys the essence about the efficacy of the memory of those people: a person came to his friend’s house to read to him his newly written “long” poem of 100 verses; the friend said ‘ok recite it to me’. After the poem was read, the friend asked ‘you wrote this poem?’; he replied “yes”. So the friend said “it is not yours, I have heard it before” and then he recited the exact hundred verses of the poem! Then he called his wife and she too recited it (she was listening to the poem behind the curtain); then he called his servant, who heard it three times, and he, too recited it verbatim.
The other thing is that the Quran has always been a public property, unlike the other Holy Scriptures, which mainly the religious heads and their council had access to. In recent times also in Catholic Christian doctrine, it was not considered right for the common people to read the Bible on their own because of the symbolism in the Bible the person might get confused. It was Martin Luther, as is quite famous in history books, who raised this issue that every Christian should read the Bible on their own and the Church should not be the guardian in the private religious affair of the common people.
The Quran is different, it was revealed not in a private room, it was revealed according to the occasion, wherever Muhammad (pbuh) was: travelling, talking, sitting, fighting etc and everybody heard and watched. Most importantly it became a religious duty to teach the Quran and a praiseworthy act to memorise the entire Quran. The Prophet said “the best of you is the one (he or she) who learns the Quran and teach it”.
According to psychological findings on memory we know that we can remember much better if we learn in parts, the same thing is applied to the Quran. it was revealed over a period of 23 years and this makes it a lot easier to memorise it. Even today small children (personally I know two of them, they are my relatives) have been able to memorise the entire Quran in 3-5 years.
Another thing is that the Quran was and is recited everyday; to be more specific everyday people recite the Quran five times a day and in the month of Ramadan, the whole Quran is recited. In several Hadees it is mentioned that several companions of the Prophet used to recite the Quran at night and the Prophet forbade his people to finish reading the Quran in less than three days.
The shocking thing to note is the today, in spite of a great deal of memory problem caused because of machines and Google, children as small as 7 to 8 years old, whose mother tongue is not Arabic, memorise the entire Quran verbatim, and with the exact punctuation and pronunciation. Every year there are a lot of competitions of the Quranic recitation, mostly focusing on children.
Allah says, and this prophecy is also fulfilled:
“And We have certainly made the Qur’ān easy for remembrance, so is there any who will remember? (54: 17, 32, 40)