Monday, June 7, 2010

Publishing the Qur'an: From the perspective of modern publishing practice (Part 5)


Sales & Marketing
Marketing, as defined by an author of a textbook on publishing, "comprises  a range of activities concerned with informing potential customers of the availability of a book and encouraging them to order or buy it."

With reference to the Qur'an publication, sales were clearly immaterial. Marketing, however, was given a strong emphasis, particularly by Sayyidina Uthman. In concluding the publication process of Mushaf Uthmani, he ordered his team to make duplicate copies for distribution to cities such as Kufa, Basra and Syria. There are several other reports citing additional locations including Makkah, Madinah, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt and al-Jazirah.   

The distribution of Mushaf Uthmani was accompanied by a group of Qari (Qur'an reciter) who were assigned to the respective cities. The Qari's role was to read out the Mushaf Uthmani loudly in front of the public, hence removing variant readings which might have been adopted by the locals. It was absolutely necessary for the people to learn its proper recitation directly from the official qari sent by Sayyidina Uthman. After all, the Quran is a book not meant for silent reading, but rather for recitation. The literal meaning for the word Qur'an is a 'Book of Recitation'. This initiative carried out by Sayyidina Uthman conforms to the traditional Islamic educational method whereby students learn through direct contacts with teachers whose transmission channels reached the Prophet s.a.w. As a result, Mushaf Uthmani being the first authorized written publication of the Qur'an fundamentally supports the oral-publication of the book that has existed since Prophet Muhammad's era to this very day.

To recap, we have illustrated many features of the Qur'an publication process being similar to the modern publishing practice. For each of the six publishing functions defined by Thompson in 'Books in the Digital Age', there exists a matching element in the Qur'an publishing. The Qur'an covered all the required aspects from content acquisition, content development, quality control, financial investment & risk taking, management & coordination, to marketing. Original contents of the Qur'an were acquired at Phases 1, 2 and 3 from authentic sources prior to its content development. The scattered parchments were then developed into the Suhuf and finally, the Mushaf Uthmani. Along the process, rigid control measures were taken to preserve the quality of the book such as proofreading and checking against original sources and witness account. Appropriate investments were made on economic, human and intellectual capitals. Any risks that could have existed were effectively managed. The management and coordination skills displayed by all the decision makers throughout the process were remarkable. Marketing aspects of the Qur'an was also taken into account. The caliphs who were involved in the Qur'an publication might not have been aware of publishing discipline, yet having adhered to an effective publishing process, they had accomplished what a modern publisher can expect to achieve out of a good publication.

Peculiarities in publishing the Qur'an
Because it originated as an 'uncreated' book, the publication of the Qur'an had many peculiar features. It was and still is an extraordinary book in that sense due to its 'Author'. According to Muslims, it came into creation from an unconventional 'Being'. Therefore, unlike the publication of an ordinary book, the Author cannot be questioned for His Words. He chose a special man to whom He entrusted the manuscript. The man was to be His Prophet, the Messenger of Allah, who happened to be illiterate. Prophet Muhammad was the beneficiary of 114 chapters of the Book, meant to address not just Muslims, but the entire universe. For 22 years, from the first episode of revelation at a cave in Makkah, he continued receiving the verses through an angel named Jibreel. Having spent his early life in Makkah, the Prophet later migrated to Madinah where the second part of the revelation resumed and the verses were continually arranged into an orderly fashion, as instructed by the Author through Jibreel. At the age of 63, the Prophet died. The verse he had received about a week before passing away was to be the last verse for the Qur'an.

Another aspect of the Qur'an publication that is not comparable to a modern day publication is the presence of an intermediary between the Author and Muhammad. Jibreel acted as the most important bridge in the revelation of the Qur'anic verses. Despite having one or two supra-normal parts in its publishing value-chain, the Qur'an eventually evolved into a book containing valuable contents and despite lacking sophisticated production facilities such as writing materials, printing or binding, the Book achieved the basic purpose of a publication - to avail itself in a documented form for the benefit of its readers. Nonetheless, the process of adding value to the physical look of the Book progressed considerably.

The progress was prompted by societal needs. The needs that arose during the two earlier phases of the Qur'an publication necessitated the production of the Suhuf and then the Mushaf. These two formats of the Book may be likened to paperback and hardback respectively, albeit a little antiquated. Then again, judging by the standards viable in 7 CE, the publication was indeed successful.

The imprint created by Sayyidina Uthman (Mushaf Uthmani) was accidental. The publication of the first official Qur'an was initially known simply as the Mushaf, which basically means a collection of Suhuf (loose pieces of written sheets), in the form of a book. Suhuf, we may recall,  was a product developed during the time of Sayyidina Abu Bakar.

Sayyidina Uthman was obviously not a commercial publisher. While he proclaimed the authority of the Mushaf, he did not publicize it as Mushaf Uthmani. He did not initiate the imprint. The imprint 'Mushaf Uthmani' was a by-product. He had no idea how his Mushaf could have earned a tremendous value of symbolic and intellectual capitals, if he were a profit-making publisher. But he was a pious and generous Caliph known to have donated large sums of his private assets for the Islamic cause.

Today, any publishers wishing to re-print the Qur'an could do so without having to acquire any rights, other than keeping good morals by printing the authentic version of the Book. Even so, many Muslim countries have begun to regulate the printing of the Book so as to safeguard its sanctity. Contemporary publishers licensed to reprint the Qur'an may freely add cosmetic value to it such as cover jackets, typeface design (calligraphy), paper quality, size variation etc. The 114 chapters, their original sequence, the exact words, however must be retained as per Mushaf Uthmani. That is mandatory for a publication to be called the Qur'an or the Noble Qur'an or the Holy Qur'an. The Qur'an has been translated into many languages such as Italian - Corano; French - Coran; Swedish - Koranen; Portugese - Alcorao etc.  Its recitation and written verses in the original Arabic language is what makes it a Qur'an.

The same Qur'an continues to reach the believers to this day. Although the book that the Muslim communities presently own has a different look and feel to the original Mushaf Uthmani, the Qur'an is essentially the same. Its contents and composition have not changed. In light of this remarkable accomplishment, Sayyidina Uthman has long been honoured as the Jami'ul Qur'an. He has been eulogized as the 'Compiler of the Qur'an'. Sayyidina Abu Bakar also made an attempt to compile it. He managed to collate the Qur'an into Suhuf with the help of Zaid bin Thabit, at the insistence of Sayyidina Umar. Without the existence of the Suhuf, it would have been impossible for Sayyidina Uthman to put together the 114 chapters as a Mushaf. Yet it is understandable why it was Sayyidina Uthman who was given the title Jami'aul Qur'an. Sayyidina Uthman was the one who commissioned the first formal publication of the Qur'an. He established a master copy not just for safekeeping, but it was intended for the public's reference and distribution. In fact, as what has been proposed in this article, he had actually published the Qur'an. His specific role as we have suggested was that of a Commissioning Editor. He excelled at it and many of his actions matched up to current publishing benchmarks. Given the definitive role and tasks that he undertook in publishing the Qur'an, it could be argued that Sayyidina Uthman should also be recognized as the 'Greatest Muslim Publisher'.

He was indeed more of a nasheer (publisher) than a jami'ul (compiler). As far as the Qur'an is concerned, there are four meanings for its compilation: 'learning by heart, bringing together written copies of the Qur'an, bringing together reports of the memorizers and bringing together all written and oral Qur'anic sources." Sayyidina Uthman's particular accomplishment pertaining to the Qur'an compilation was to gather written copies of the Qur'an into one master volume. But it is understandable why the term 'publisher' was not used. The public at large knows what is meant by compiling because it is a simple straightforward act. Not many, except those familiar with the art of publishing, can recognize and appreciate the intricacies involved in developing a publication from start to finish. Sayyidina Uthman himself might not have realized his ability as a publisher, but surely he ought to be applauded for his achievement in publishing the Qur'an. Indeed, Sayyidina Uthman could easily qualify as a publisher according to Thompson's definition: "The publisher acts not just as a cultural filter or gatekeeper but in many cases plays a proactive role in creating or conceiving a project..." Sayyidina Uthman was the first to make a pro-active call to produce a manuscript of the Qur'an for the purpose of replicating the standard Qur'an codex for distribution to the public. This decision certainly fits with the simplest definition for the act of publishing that traces its origin to the Latin word publicare - meaning to make public. Given the impact of Sayyidina Uthman's achievement to solidify the Qur'an status over such a long period of time and embracing such a wide population, he should be regarded as the greatest publisher ever. He was in fact the greatest Muslim Nasheer.

Below is a photograph of an original copy of Mushaf Uthmani. It is eminent proof of Sayyidina Uthman's immense contribution to Islam.
Wallahu a'lam.

The five-parts blog posting on 'Publishing the Qur'an: From the perspective of modern publishing practice' are extracted, summarized and slightly edited from two chapters of a dissertation on the same topic by Lisan al-Din writer.


  1. Salam,

    Typo error: (Para 10, line 7) - The 144 chapters,
    Pls correct it.


  2. Salam Hazbu,
    Correction done.