Scholars differ on the total number of sahaabah who had memorised all of the Qur’aan and read it back to the Prophet (ﷺ) before his death. Imaam Al- Bukhaaree collected in his saheeh a statement of Anas ibn Maalik that only four people had gathered the whole Qur’aan in the Prophet’s lifetime: Aboo ad- Dardaa’, Mu‘aath ibn Jabal, Zayd ibn Thaabit and Aboo Zayd.
Scholars agree that the apparent limitation in Anas’s statement is either not what he intended or, if he did intend it, that it was not accurate. It seems he made this statement in the course of a friendly argument between members of the two tribes of the Ansaar about the virtues of each tribe.
The individuals Anas named were all from the Khazraj tribe to which he belonged, and he meant to say that no one from the Aws tribe had memorized all of it. There are two versions of this statement. The other version simply states that four people memorized the whole Qur’aan, without saying they were the only ones, and it mentions Ubayy ibn Ka‘b in place of Aboo ad-Dardaa’.
In another report collected by al-Bukhaaree, the Prophet (ﷺ) instructed his companions to learn the Qur’aan from Ibn Mas‘ood, Saalim, the freed slave of Aboo Huthayfah, Mu‘aath and Ubayy. Other authentic evidence indicates that Aboo Bakr and ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas had memorized all of it.
However, there are two hadeeths reported by al-Bukhaaree to indicate that the number was higher than that. In the incident of Bi’r Ma‘oonah, seventy sahaabah, all of them qurraa’, were ambushed and killed. The word qurraa’ is the plural of qaaree’, which is used for a memorizer of the Qur’aan who is proficient in reciting it, although the sahaabah seem to have also used the term for one who is knowledgeable about its meanings.
Seventy of the sahaabah who had memorized the whole Qur’aan, most of them from the Ansaar, died fighting in the battle of Yamaamah only two years after the death of the Prophet (ﷺ).
If they had not completed their memorization of it before his death, they must have done so for a substantial portion of it. Some people have tried to argue on the basis of Anas’s statement collected by al-Bukhaaree that the number of people who memorized the Qur’aan during the lifetime of the Prophet (ﷺ) was too small to support the Muslim claim that the Qur’aan was conveyed to us by tawaatur.
Even if we accept this report at face value, its use to support that argument is not strong, because, although the number of people who had memorized the whole Qur’aan in the Prophet’s lifetime may have been limited, many others had memorized substantial, overlapping portions.
So during his lifetime the number of memorizers was great for any given portion of the Qur’aan. Many of these completed their memorization of it after his death. In fact, with every succeeding generation of Muslims, the numbers of those who memorized all of the Qur’aan has increased. Today there are literally hundreds of thousands of Muslims throughout the world who have done so.
There is no other book, religious or otherwise, which has been memorized on this scale in recorded history. The Qur’aan is about four-fifths the length of the New Testament of the Christians, yet not a single person in recorded history is known to have memorized the New Testament completely. In fact, if all of the books in the world were somehow destroyed, the only book which could be rewritten, word for word, without a single mistake is the Glorious Qur’aan.
One of the leading orientalists, Kenneth Cragg, said the following regarding the memorization and preservation of the Qur’aanic text, “This phenomenon of Qur’anic recital means that the text has traversed the centuries in an unbroken living sequence of devotion.
It cannot, therefore, be handled as an antiquarian thing, nor as a historical document out of a distant past.” Another orientalist scholar, William Graham, wrote: “For countless millions of Muslims over more than fourteen centuries of Islamic history, ‘scripture’, al-kitab, has been a book learned, read and passed on by vocal repetition and memorization.
The written Qur’an may ‘fix’ visibly the authoritative text of the Divine Word in a way unknown in history, but the authoritativeness of the Qur’anic book is only realised in its fullness and perfection when it is correctly recited.” Yet another, John Burton, stated: “The method of transmitting the Qur’an from one generation to the next by having the young memorise the oral tradition of their elders had mitigated somewhat from the beginning the worst perils of relying solely on written records.
At the end of a voluminous work on the Qur’aan’s collection, Burton stated that the text of the Qur’aan available today is the” text which has come down to us in the form in which it was organised and approved by the Prophet What we have today in our hands is the mus-haf of Muhammad.”
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