Thursday, June 3, 2010

Publishing the Qur'an: From the perspective of modern publishing practice (Part 1)


O son, I wish to share the gist of the dissertation I did for my Master's degree in Publishing Studies at University of Stirling, Scotland. Alhamdulillah wa shukrulillah. In a nutshell, it was a study on the history of Qur'an publishing from the perspective of modern publishing practice and an assessment on Sayyidina Uthman as the 'Greatest Muslim Nasheer (Publisher)'. 

Although the Qur'an was published more than a thousand years ago, its process did fulfill all six components of modern publishing practice such as content acquisition, content development, quality control, financial investment & risk taking, management & coordination and sales & marketing.

History records Sayyidina Uthman a.s., the 3rd Caliph (644-656 CE) as the Jami'ul Qur'an (The Compiler of the Qur'an) but if one looked closer he was actually not just a compiler, he had, by modern publishing standards, displayed the traits of a remarkable publisher.

Content acquisition
The Qur'an went through three phases of content acquisition. In the first phase, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w acquired the contents from Archangel Jibreel. This phase which defined the prophethood of Muhammad took place between 610 - 632 CE. The outcomes were Qur'anic verses being written on scattered parchments e.g on bones, leaves etc. In the second phase of Qur'an content acquisition, Sayyidina Abu Bakar as-Siddiq, had upon advice by Sayyidina Umar, appointed Zaid bin Thabit to collect the Qur'an from the scattered parchments. Zaid collected, verified and re-wrote the texts on loose papers which were tied together forming the Suhuf. The deaths of many huffaz (people who memorized the Qur'an) during the Battle of Yamama had triggered this re-collection and re-writing. In phase 3 of the Qur'an content acquisition, Zaid was once again commissioned by Sayyidina Uthman to acquire the holy texts from the Suhuf and developed them into uniform sheets of paper known as Mushaf (later known as Mushaf Uthmani). Sayyidina Uthman had at this stage acquired the contents for the purpose of standardizing its recitation on a single Mushaf, with a single dialect. His objective was focused on codification of the Quran.

Content development
Many authors have described the Qur'an as an 'uncreated' Book. In one respect, it is true because the orally transmitted verses were granted by God as the supreme Author. However, its physical recordings as initiated by Prophet Muhammad were definitely a human creation. The scribes were engaged to create written records of the verses. As they were doing it, Prophet Muhammad would, as instructed by Jibreel, order the arrangements of the verses. Sometimes, the Author might even abrogate a selected verse, and Jibreel would then ask Prophet Muhammad to make the required changes. This abrogation process is called Nasikh and Mansukh - two terms deriving from a similar root word nasakha meaning to abolish, replace, withdraw or abrogate. This procedure was necessary because as we know the Qur'an came down in stages according to the situation and readiness of the people at that time. For instance, the rulings  on prohibiting wine appeared in three stages suiting to the degree of the people's receptivity. 'None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause it to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: knowest thou God has power over all things?' - Qur'an 2:106.

It must be noted that the process of abrogating or editing only occured at Phase 1. During Phase 2 & 3 the Qur'an were developed in regards to its recording and compilation, not its contents/texts.

In the current publishing context, developing content is an indispensable aspect of a publication process. It forms a critical path where it defines the purpose of publishing  a particular manuscript, in other words, its intended audience. As for the Qur'an publication, it was not developed to meet a judging audience, it was published to fullfil an inevitable cultural or societal requirement. The circumstances at the time demanded for codification of the Qur'an. Sayyidina Abu Bakar's aim was to preserve the Qur'an. Sayyidina Uthman's objective was to establish an upgraded master copy to ease production and dissemination.

Content development for the Qur'an began from the time the first verse was revealed to Prophet Muhammad in 610 CE. The revelation continued for 22 years until 632 CE when the Prophet passed away. About two years later, the scattered parchments were developed into the Suhuf which remained untouched until about 13 years later, when in 647 CE, it was developed into Mushaf Uthmani. All in all, the Qur'an had taken approximately 37 years to be developed from the first revelation to the conception of Mushaf Uthmani. In reality, the three caliphs took 15 years (from the time of the Prophet's demise) to develop the Qur'an from scattered parchments into a proper publication. Fifteen years is a reasonable timeframe, given the prevailing situations in 7 CE when publishing facilities were primitive. Even with modern technologies, reference publications such as dictionaries and encyclopaedia, would take many years to complete. 
In the next posting, we will look at the Qur'an publication in light of modern publishing theories i.e. quality control, financial investment & risk taking, and sales & marketing.
Wallahu a'lam.


  1. I would like to have a read, any chance you could email it me?

    Miss AH

  2. Salam Sis AH
    Thank you for your interest but I have misplaced the softcopy : (
    I am VERY disorganized!
    Bi-iznillah it's hiding somewhere in one of my pen-drives. By the way sister, I was supposed to courier you some books. Please could you kindly wait a lil longer while I fulfill some other requests. InshaAllah.
    Kind regards

  3. You and disorganised?! Never would have thought that to be the case. I only wanted the hard copy as I do like a long read - no matter. Aah yes these books, have I any other choice but to wait? :p it ok as long as I know I will inshallah be receiving them.

    Btw I have managed to learn all the attributes of Allah swt :)) I am so pleased and cannot believe that I managed to do it. It has been such a struggle and I dont know why, I guess if it was that easy I would not appreciated it as much. Shukrahamdillah.

    Moving on, I am still struggling with the hijab. I read this lately and fall into despair: 'We hear and we obey and we seek thy forgiveness our lord'. I am praying hard for 'hidayah wal tawfik' like you advised. A friend said that I need to just take the plunge and do it. But I hesitate, I dont want to do it this way, I want to be happy in doing so. I fear that if I do it this way I will only be tempted to take it off at a later stage. I worry that I will feel inferior in appearance when compared to other people, and I dont know how to overcome these thoughts.

    Miss AH