Friday, June 4, 2010

Publishing the Qur'an: From the perspective of modern publishing practice (Part 2)


Quality control
Yesterday we talked about content acquisition and content development of the Qur'an. The third element we shall briefly touched upon today is quality control. All three stages of the Qur'an content development went through a rigorous quality evaluation.

At Phase 1, when Prophet Muhammad instructed his scribes to record the verses he had just received, the scribes would immediately after writing the copies, read the verses aloud for the Prophet's approval. The copy of these first written records of the Qur'an made on leather, cloth, parchments, bones, stones, palm leaves and tablets were then kept safely in the Prophet's house.

Oral proofreading was also carried out once annually in the month of Ramadhan (on every night of the month) between the Prophet and Jibreel beginning from 610 CE. In the year when Prophet died, in 632 CE, Jibreel had actually done the oral proofreading twice. This exercise of checking the reading between Muhammad and Jibreel is known as Mu'arada. Occasionally, a number of scribes and companions had the privilege to witness the exclusive Mu'arada sessions. Sayyidina Uthman, Zaid bin Thabit and Abdullah bin Masud were among the privilege few.

The task of developing the Suhuf at Phase 2 of Qur'an content  development was assigned to Zaid. When Sayyidina Abu Bakar called upon him to 'pursue the Quran and collect it together', he specifically asked Zaid to only refer to parchments that were accompanied by two witnesses. This was to ensure that the parchments Zaid would use for re-writing had been copied in the presence of the Prophet. Sayyidina Umar assisted Zaid to carry out his task by helping him gather the witnesses. The other factor that guaranteed Zaid of an authentic source was the fact that the Qur'an in its entirety had been recorded in memories. Zaid himself was a huffaz

At Phase 3, when Sayyidina Uthman made the decision to publish the Qur'an in one master volume, he approached the project carefully. He appointed an official committee of four representatives from two major tribes i.e. the Ansar and Quraish. Zaid bin Thabit represented the Ansar while the other three Abdullah bin az-Zubair, Said bin al-As and Abdul Rahman bin al-Harith represented the Quraish. The instruction given by Sayyidina Uthman to the team of four was that if there were any disputes on any reading variants, they must stick to the Quraish dialect (the original dialect of the Qur'an).

It is worth noting that there is another version of the traditions describing a more elaborate approach adopted by Sayyidina Uthman. Instead of employing a team of four, there was a 12-member committee set up to produce an independent copy rather than just copying straight from the Suhuf. In any case, Sayyidina Uthman had used only records that were dictated by the Prophet s.a.w. People who submitted copies of the parchments did under oath that they were all genuine and authentic. The materials were then collected, labeled and given to Zaid. Among the materials retrieved was a copy kept by Saidatina Aishah. In addition to making reference to Aishah's copy, the Suhuf that was at that time kept by Hafsah served as the most crucial reference. The new master copy produced by the committee was re-checked against it.

Lastly, the finalized copy was read out to a group of companions for them to verify based on their memorization of the Qur'an. Sayyidina Uthman himself was witness to the entire publication process. Once the Mushaf Uthmani was completed, a number of certified copies were made for distribution to selected cities. Sayyidina Uthman then ordered the public to burn all other manuscripts including the Suhuf itself. A hadith by Imam Malik reported: "Sending each Muslim army its own Mushaf, Uthman instructed them to burn all other manuscripts which differed from his." Protecting the quality of the Qur'an became his topmost priority. Such was the great care taken by Sayyidina Uthman in managing the publication of Mushaf Uthmani. It is evident that his incisive actions and wisdom matched, if not surpassed that of a professional publisher in recent times.

To be continued

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