The Holy Quran: History, the background, the 7th Century culture, the preservation of the Holy Quran and the overall impact
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim – In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
According to Islamic tradition, the history of Mekkah goes back to Adam (AS), who originally built the Kaba, but it was wiped off by Noah (AS)’s flood, and was re-built later by Prophet Abraham (AS). Prophet Abraham (AS) built the Kaba with the help of his first-born son, Prophet Ishmael (AS), in around 2000 BC when Mekkah was known as Bekkah. However, though Kaba remained a place of worship throughout the next couple of thousands years, Monotheism was about to disappear. And, as the existing followers of Monotheistic faiths were waiting for the next Prophet to be born as told in their Holy Scriptures, they settled in Mekkah in the hope of meeting the next Prophet up until the 6th century when this man named Muhammad (SAWS), who was also known as Al-Amin, which means the trust worthy, from a tribe called Quraish first received revelation from God Almighty at the age of 40 in the year 610. Muhammad (SAWS) later became known as Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) and this message that came from God as gradual revelations to him in a span of over 23 years is known today as “The Holy Quran.”
Muslims believe that the Quran is the literal words of God Almighty, unchanged, uncorrupted. The Quran was preserved as was revealed word for word, letter for letter. Many of you might wonder how was this possible in the deserts of Arabia in 7th century. The story itself is a very intriguing one. And even if you have to give the benefit of the doubt to this Book at first that it is from our Creator and if in the end you end up realizing that this Book is indeed from your Creator then you will be utterly amazed. Regardless of the parts of the Quran that we don’t understand, or misunderstand, when you read the Quran and experience that the Book speaks to you directly, there is nothing like it. But in the mean time, this article will present the amazing history before, during and after this glorious Book was revealed. This article will discuss the following topics:
A. The Background: the time before 7th Century
B. 7th Century culture: the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)
A. The Background: The time before 7th Century
Let’s go back in time, back in the pages of history, let’s go back passed the 7th century. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born in the year 570, so let’s go back even a little earlier of that time. What was it like then? What did people believe at that time? How was the culture like? Were there any people of the other two Abrahamic faiths living there? What were they doing in the deserts of Arabia? What about the political situation of that area during that time?
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A tribe named Al Quraish dominated the region for centuries through the year 570 AD. Up until the 5th century the trade routes were through the Red Sea and were established and controlled by the Byzantine Empire. But piracy started to increase and as the piracy increased, demand for land routes increased. Land routes for caravans started to develop. As the Quraish already had the control of this little place in the region called Mekkah, this shifting demand for land route for commerce gave them the opportunity to become skilled merchants and traders.
By the beginning of 6th century there were three major settlements in the northern Arabian Peninsula known as Hejaz. The three settlements in Hejaz were: Oases, Yathrib and Ta’if. Oases started from the coast of Red Sea, in the center of Hejaz was a city called Yathrib, which is now known as Medina or the city of Prophet, and 250 miles south of Yathrib was the third and the mountainous city called Ta’if. Mekkah, which was right next to Ta’if, was barren and rocky desert yet became the cross points for major caravan routes because of its abundant source of water from its famous well called ZamZam.
[To expand the map please click on the bottom right corner of the map]
Although the local tribes were in constant conflict with each other, once a year, they declared a truce for pilgrimage to worship their gods in Kaba. During this time the tribes would come together resolving disputes and debts between each other, and trade would take place in Mekkah. Thus Mekkah became the focal point of Arabian Peninsula. Goods came from everywhere including from Africa for to be loaded into caravans and for to be shipped away. Trading goods included leather, livestock, and metals mined in the local mountains. The Quraish started and controlled the camel craven system and became famous in the region. Mekkans signed treaty with Byzantines and Bedouins, which would allow them the trading rights for the next few centuries in exchange for giving permission to the ZamZam water to the other parties.
The Governing Authorities Of Tribes And Formation of A Country:
According to the definitions of the dictionaries, “A country is a region legally identified as a distinct entity in political geography.” A country could be a territory of a sovereign state or a non-sovereign state. The non-sovereign states are either the possessions of the sovereign states or they are dependent to another state or country. The three settlements that I just mentioned above were not bound with any truce with any other surrounding countries or with each other; they consisted of independent groups of tribes within, who functioned as sovereign mini states.
It is important to see that when the Quran was revealed, Prophet Muhammad (PHUH) was the governing authority within a tribe or within a settlement, which allowed him to implement the laws of the Quran that pertains to the head of a country today, i. e. to go to war against another tribe. Decisions like this can only be made by the governing authority of an independent country. To understand the complexity behind it, you would have to go far back into these pages of history, and see the reason, why a group leader today can not make the kind of decisions that Prophet Muhammad (SAWS – Sallallahu Alaihe Wa Salam) made. If someone wrongs you, you are allowed to fight back but you can only fight back against another country with the permission of your own leader of your country. Today, even the countries have responsibilities towards World Peace and many countries are bound by treaties of United Nation.
The permission given in the Quran is different than the actions taken by the Muslim terrorists today.
The Atmosphere Right Before The Quran Was Revealed:
7th century Arabia, within a few years before the year 570: In Islamic history that time is marked as the time of “Jahelia” or the time of “Ignorance,” because even though there was a lot going on with the culture and poetry at the time, they were lacking the judgment of knowing right from wrong. During that time the gentile people were fighting against the harsh tribal rules, promiscuity surrounded the Kaba, and their way of living was leading to oppressing the women and the poor. Although there were many talented poets and professional healers and memorizers amongst them there were not a lot of people with academic education amongst them, except for a handful of mostly Jews and a few Christians. Arabian poetry and literature were at their peek and poetry competitions amongst tribes were held often in special occasions, there were enchanters, sooth sayers and magicians. When it came to religions, people had very open minds and they were extremely tolerant towards all other religions. Kaba had over 350 idols that belonged to many different faiths, and people of those faiths used to come to Kaba for Annual Pilgrimage. Animal sacrifices were made and offerings of those meats to the gods of different faiths were a common practice, and feeding the pilgrims even of the other faiths was an honorable thing to do. Pornography was no big deal, and the human behaviors that went on around Kaba during those days are unimaginable to today’s civilized people. Some tribes would dance naked around the Kaba during their rituals, but that was okay with the rest. Society basically went astray with no set laws, and without the proper understanding of distinguishing right from wrong they lived their lives as they pleased.
Of course, mixed with the bad were many good Jews and Christian’s, who settled in the surrounding areas of Kaba because according to their Scriptures at that time, they were expecting the coming of the mentioned Prophet. They knew that a Prophet was to be born from the Abrahamic descendents in that area, and it was a matter of time. So they were waiting patiently, generations after generations, for to be of the first to accept the Prophet, and to be the first to welcome him. Of the people of those faiths, who recognized Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) as being the Prophet mentioned in their Books, accepted him and became some of the very early Muslims and thus they were no longer Jews and Christians.
B. 7th Century culture: The time of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)
Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s Family Status And Background Of His Lineage:
During that time in Arabia when tribal rivalry was prominent, some tribes prevailed over the others, sometimes through their unique and generous contributions to their tribal society. Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, was the chieftain of the tribe Quraish and he did something that not only elevated his status within the Quraish, but it elevated the status of the Quraish amongst the other tribes. When Abdul Muttalib was young, he rediscovered the well ZamZam through his dreams. ZamZam is the well that miraculously started for Abraham (AS)’s infant son, Ishmael (AS), when Abraham (AS) left his wife, Hagar, and his infant son in the desolate valley of Mekkah according to the instruction of Allah Almighty. Over time ZamZam was buried and got hidden. Everyone knew about its existence, but no one could find it until Abdul Muttalib had the similar dreams of discovering the well in three consecutive nights. When he finally dug the place and rediscovered the well of ZamZam, it had a huge impact in the surrounding communities of that desert area where water was very scarce and was valued the most. Though Abdul Muttalib shared the water free with other tribes, it gave him the opportunity to trade – he was known as a very generous, wealthy and good chieftain.
Later in Abdul Muttalib’s life as he got married and settled down he only had one son and could not have anymore children. He made a promise to God to sacrifice one of his children if he was to have more. And when he had 12 sons, Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s father, Abdullah, was the most favorite of his children. Abdullah was a very beautiful child and a very handsome person. Abdul Muttalib always remembered his promise to God deep in his heart. But he could in no way decide which of his children he was to sacrifice. Finally after talking to all of his children they decided to draw names for sacrificing. Out of his 12 sons, Abdullah’s name came up. Abdul Muttalib was crushed. Now, also to mention that in that society, these were the gentile people and the children were very obedient to their fathers. Abdul Muttalib held Abdullah very dear to his heart and sacrificing him was the last think he could think of. He went to a female sorceress, who then gave him an alternative to add a lot of 10 camels for sacrificing every time Abdullah’s name would be picked, but this time Abdullah’s name would be placed with animals’ names sparing the rest of his children. Abdul Muttalib drew, but every time Abdullah’s name was being picked up, finally after the 10th time Abdullah was spared, and by then 100 camels were in the lot to be sacrificed. In those days when the camel caravans were the main means of transportation and income, sacrificing 100 camels was a huge sacrifice. The news spread far and wide, and the event was huge and people came from far off places to witness the incident. This incident not only made Abdullah famous, it also elevated his status as the Chieftain’s favorite son. And that is how God was elevating the status of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s father and grandfather in the society long before Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) was born.
The Birth Of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS):
Abdullah was the father of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), who died a few months before Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) was even born. Only after a few months of Abdullah’s death when Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) was born in the year 570, his grandfather, Abdul Muttalib was still very emotional and held this newborn grandson very dear to his heart. Thus Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s status was elevated from the day of his birth within the tribe Quraish. But it is hard to understand God’s ways sometimes. Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) became an orphan at the age of around 5 after the sudden death of his mother Ameena form some sickness. He then was brought up by his grandfather. But after a few years Abdul Muttalib also died. He then was placed with his uncle Abu Talib as he was the oldest of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)'s uncles and also it was his nature of generosity that made him to take care of an orphan. Abu Talib had lots of children, they all took parts in the household chores. Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) was assigned to take care of the sheep and the goats. Thus he became a shepherd in his very young age even though he was the grandson of a once very famous Chieftain. Thus God puts people in situations to gain life training. It is said that every Prophets of God at some point in their lives were shepherds. As he was growing up helping his uncle he took parts in the family trading business and rode with the caravans from his early teen years. He was also known as the trustworthy or “Al-Amin” by everyone. He was married at the age of 25 to a wealthy business woman named Khadijah (RA) and lived as a normal member of Quraish until he was 40 years old. He was loved by everyone, and everyone trusted him with their money in trade.
A Brief Description Of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s Character Until He Reached 40 And Received Prophet Hood:
Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) had a very sweet personality and up until he reached the age of 40, he was loved by everyone around, no one had any problems with him, not only that, he was a man with such a character that he used to be called the trustworthy because of his nature from his young age. From time to time this friendly yet quiet person used to get away from it all and used to meditate inside of a cave named Hira of a nearby mountain called Mount Nur (Nur means light). He used to take food with him and stay there for a few days. During one of these nights during the month of Ramadan he received the very first revelation. The following five verses were the very first of the reveletion that he received. They are the first five verses of Chapter 96, "Clots of Blood" or "Al 'Alaq."
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
"Ikra bismi rabbi kallazi Khalak
Khalakal insana min Alak
Ikra wa rabbukal akram
Allazi Allama bil kalam
Allamal Insana Malam Yalam" (Quran Ch 96 V. 1-5)
Meaning of these verses are like this:
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
"Recite in the name of Allah, the Creator
Who created the human being from a clot.
Recite in the name of Allah the most generous
The one, who taught with a pen
He taught the human being what he did not know."
Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) was extremely frightened by the incident of meeting Archangel Gabriel (AS) and receiving the call to Prophet Hood. When he came running out of the cave and back to his house shaking, his wife, Khadijah, helped him to calm down, and gave him confidence that what he received was not anything bad and what he saw could not be anything bad, and could not be a hallucination, it had to be real, she immediately took him to one of her cousins named Waraka, who was an older gentleman and used to be known as a very pious and wise person of Christian faith. After hearing the incident from Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) and hearing the parts of the revelation he confirmed that he was the chosen one and he was the one they were waiting for, he was the Prophet mentioned in the previous Scriptures of God. But even though Waraka believed in Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) he died soon after that and before telling about him to very many people.
The Beginning Of The Revelation And The Overall Initial Impact:
At the age of 40, after receiving the first revelation from God through the Archangel, Gabriel (AS), things were never the same. As many people believed him right away and many older and the wise people of the other faiths recognized him immediately as being the mentioned Prophet of their books, there were many others, who turned against him. A man known with such good characters up until he was 40 years old, was suddenly being called names and his character was being questioned. The open culture of practicing different religions of Kaba suddenly was threatened by this new belief of believing in One God only, the people of his own clan turned against him and his journey in Islam began.
Over the next 23 years, Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) and his followers went though many ups and downs of life, and during their experiences of life the rest of the Quran was revealed - Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) and his followers encountering different problems and Quran providing solutions to those problems. It was a journey like no other and Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) and his followers’ lived though this journey that left a permanent mark in history through the transformation of human behavior during these 23 years. It is something to take note of. The revelations, which are the contents of the Quran, gave the civilization a complete shift from the tribal ignorance to governing empires, from religious ignorance to re-establishment of Abrahamaic Monotheism, from burying their infant daughters alive to giving women property rights and respecting them. Prayers of worshipping the One God were established and people found peace in their lives. Cleanliness was established that saved people from diseases and mandatory sharing of the wealth with poor impacted the society – poverty was no longer the problems of the poor alone, it became a consideration of everyone in the society. Overall, it taught what’s right from wrong and to reach out to the people of the community. There was also a shift in how people were evaluating human beings: Regardless of gender, Quran declared that a person’s nobility is to be based on his or her piety and the ability to submit him or herself to God Almighty. This shift of evaluating a person that was based on his or her commitment to God and not on their wealth impacted the society in a way that no one knew before. This new evaluation system and the new way of understanding the value of people lifted the women's and the poor’s status from being worthless in the society to being someone important. People from every direction saw the goodness of this religion, and the religion spread fast – far and wide. The words of God touched peoples’ hearts – Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) was declared in the Quran as a mercy to all people and a Prophet to all of Mankind. Thus he was not just a Prophet to the people of Arabia and this Holy Book of God called the Holy Quran, was declared a Holy Book for everyone, to all of humanity.
The Revelation Completed And The Preservation Of The Quran:
The revelation came gradually depending on the circumstances. And Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) encountered many hardships and sufferings of life over the next 23 years. In about halfway through this 23-year journey Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) lost his beloved wife, Khadijah (RA) and his beloved uncle, Abu Talib, both in a short period of time. Abu Talib, who never became a Muslim, was the main reason for Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s tribesmen not to dispose him. After his death Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)'s life was under attack and he was attempted to be murdered several times. So he migrated to the nearby city named Yathrib, which is now known as Medina or the City of Prophet, where he was welcomed with arms wide open, he was welcomed with honor and he was given the authority to become the Political leader of the people of the City of Medina. He went through several wars against other tribes defending the people of Medina and defending Islam. All of these incidents played intricate parts for the revelations. During that time these incidents were the reasons for the revelations to come and today those incidents are the real life examples of war fair laws presented in the Quran. In another word, the revelations that came at that time provide guidance to our situations today from individual level to giving guidance and instructions to the political leadership level. Quran is a complete guide to every fields of life. Again I wanted to emphasize that it is important for us to understand that some of its verses are not for the decisions to be made at individual levels.
Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) died at the age of 63. During his life time the entire Quran was memorized by hundreds of people. God Almighty said in the Quran that Quran is easy to remember and as many people know today, millions of Muslims now has the entire book of Quran memorized word for word. Really, it is a miracle that anyone can witness today. But during that time when the Arabian society was thriving in the peek of poetry, the society was full of professional memorizers, the people then thought of Quran as very poetic yet ordinary. Many people memorized the Quran. People did not think of those memorizers much. But after Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s death, persecution and execution of those memorizers began. Hundreds of the memorizers, who had the entire book memorized, were killed within just a few months in an effort to eliminate the Quran.
God says in the Quran that you do not need to move your tong too fast to memorize the Quran, that God made the Quran easy to remember and that God will see to its preservation. As always, God’s words manifest, today we see that a child as young as 8 years old has the entire book of Quran memorized. The preservation process began in the hands of the Caliphs after Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s death in 633. Until then the chapters and the verses were written on different parchments, tablets of stone, branches of date trees, palm trees and leaves, wood, leather and even on bones. In Medina about forty companions took parts as scribes for the Qur'an. Twenty-two of them are mentioned by their names in the Hadiths and are well known. Among them were Abu Bakr (RA), Omar (RA), Usman (RA), Ali (RA), Ibn Masud (RA), Abu Huraira (RA), Abdullah Bin Abbas (RA) Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn Al-As (RA), Aisha (RA), Hafsa (RA) and Umm Salama (RA). These close companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) wrote down the revelations under his direct guidance. Their written documents were verified and re-verified by Prophet Muhammad (SAWS).
The compilation process of these bits and pieces began during the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (RA), and continued trough the second Caliph, Omar bin Khattab (RA), and finally the compilation was made official during the third Caliph, Usman (RA) in 653. Shortly after Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) died and after the Battle of Yamama in 633, in which 700 Muslims who had memorized the Quran were killed, Abu Bakr (RA) ordered the collection of the scattered pieces to be compiled into one complete copy. Zaid Ibn Thabit (RA), who was one of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s primary scribes, was assigned as part of the collecting team. The written copies of the Quran were validated with the oral testimony of at least two companions. The entire Quran was compiled into one single copy. At this time the chapters were still not given any particular order.
This compilation was kept by the Caliph, Abu Bakr (RA), himself and after his death by his successor, the second Caliph, Omar bin Khattab (RA). Omar bin Khattab (RA) in his deathbed gave this one and only copy to his beloved daughter, Hafsa (RA), who was one of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)’s widows. For a period of time Hafsa (RA) was the only keeper of the only copy of the Quran – it is amazing what this woman was able to do in 7th Century Arabia. In Islam women are given so much honor and respect, but people easily overlook that. During the third Caliph, Usman (RA), a separate compilation of the Quran took place independently. When the compilation was complete he sent for the one and only verified original copy from Hafsa (RA), and both copies matched perfectly. Usman (RA)’s reaction in 653 is recorded in the following:
"So 'Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa sent it to 'Uthman. 'Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, 'Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and 'AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. 'Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue." They did so, and when they had written many copies, 'Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. 'Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Said bin Thabit added, "A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur'an and I used to hear Allah's Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): 'Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.'"[Quran 33:23][Bukhari Sahih al-Bukhari, 6:61:510]
[Quoted from “The traditionalist view” from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Quran]
After gathering of the entire Quran, the bits and pieces were all burned to avoid any confusion. Even today, the old copies of the Quran are burnt by the Muslims in order to avoid any confusion by the readers where some old copies may have missing pages, and also to avoid showing any disrespect to the Quran by throwing them with the other garbage. One can only earn the wrath of God by disrespecting His Book.
Today the Quran is preserved in millions of people’s hearts.
The eloquence of this book and its journey through the history to us is something to ponder about. The literature, the poetry, the stories, the details of the ancient incidents mentioned in the stories, the science, the logic, the signs, and the experience while reading this book make this book the most unique one. But you must consider that without knowing the biography of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), it is not possible to understand the implication of the verses and the laws of the Quran. For example, sometimes a verse might seem negative, which turns out completely opposite once you get to know how that verse was implemented by Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) and for what purpose that verse was revealed.
Islam and the words of the Quran have been manipulated by many people and misunderstood probably by every society. In addition, we all have our own cultural background when each of us implements the message of the Quran. And eventually sometimes after generations later, some of the cultural behaviors get interpreted as Islamic behaviors and it all seem strange to the rest of the people. When the Quran is read with an optimistic attitude and an open heart, the deeper meaning is understood. The immediate impact of reading the Quran is that one’s heart is at immediate ease. Once the true meaning of it is absorbed, it is a ripple effect after that – you find peace and tranquility like never before. But the point is why do we not see this in many of the Islamic countries? There could be many reasons such as, presence of a corrupted system, language barrier, or maybe, Islamic educators of a society without proper academic background, but one of the common factors in many of the Islamic societies that I can think of is that understanding the Quran with a positive mindset towards women is probably missing. As the message of Islam is gradually reaching every corners of the Globe I really think that a shift in mindset is emerging.
Thank you all very much for reading. I am acknowledging the resources below - the articles and lectures were very informative and helpful. I hope to write more about the Glorious Quran in future Inshallah, God willing, until next time As-Salamu Alaikum – May God’s Peace be up on you.
History of Saudi Arabia
From the earliest times to the foundation of Saudi Arabia
Seerah: The Life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) - Part 1 By Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman
Seerah: The Life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) - Part 47 By Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman
Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Women of Islam (1 of 4)
History of the Quran
The traditionalist view
Map: Pre Islamic map of Arabian Peninsula
Links to other maps:
Title: Map of the Coast of Arabia, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf
[Please note: All pictures and maps can be zoomed by clicking on the bottom right corner of the pictures - on the magnifying glass that appears when you bring your mouse over.]