This article shall discuss how the Quran was preserved. In the Bible, God ordered Israel to preserve the Torah as in Deuteronomy 4:2. An order may be obeyed and maybe not. In case of the Quran, God didn’t order Muslims to preserve the Quran. He promised to preserve it. This means that it is impossible for the Quran to be corrupted. Allah says in the Quran:
Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qurān and indeed, We will be its guardian. (Holy Quran 15:9)
The preservation of the Quran has been mainly through oral preservation. Also there have been old manuscripts for the Quran dating from the first Islamic century. Here we shall see how both ways of preservation occurred.
Oral Preservation of the Quran
Manuscripts cannot be a sufficient evidence for any source even if its age lies to an age near that supposed for a source, yes it may be considered evidence in usual historical events, or things which are not very critical. But when it comes to religion which is supposed to be the basis a man shall build his life and eternal destiny on, it cannot be sufficient evidence because at the beginning of any message from God, many people oppose it, and even after the message prevails, many heresies evolve, and try to counter the real message of God. So for a manuscript that dates back to an age near the real age, it may be considered as auxiliary evidence, but it cannot be sufficient evidence as the source of this manuscript must be known. Who wrote it? On what basis did he write it? It may be even the case that the scribe was really a Sunni or Orthodoxy and has a good intention, but he didn’t make sure enough that everything he wrote was right. Here comes the importance of the Isnad (chain of narrators), which is to detect the transmission and make sure that no weak points are present within the transmission.
And this is the main difference between Muslims and Christians, Christians consider that if a Bible manuscript was found near the real age (even if this was 200 or 300 years later), then this means that the Bible is true. This is not enough for Muslims, but for Muslims, they should examine that period between the manuscript and the message and make sure that the transmission between the 2 periods is ok. Even if there are contemporary manuscripts, it may be the case that they were written by a heretic or by an enemy who tries to destroy the message of Islam. That’s why the major evidence for the preservation of the Quran is not the manuscripts, but it is rather the memorization of the Quran, God said in the Quran:
And indeed, WE have made the Qur’an easy to remember. Is there anyone who would take heed? (Holy Quran 54:17)
The Quran unlike the Bible is very easy to be memorized by word. Millions of Muslims nowadays memorize the Quran, and many of them are children under 10 years, while I think that the scholars who memorize the Bible by word can be counted on fingers (if there is really any). This was the case since the beginning of Islam, Quran is not a simple book to be read as a newspaper, but there is a particular way to recite the Quran on how to pronounce the letter and making rhythms. This is a science called “Tajweed”. Tajweed (which means to improve) of the Holy Quran is the knowledge and application of the rules of recitation so the reading of the Quran is as the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) recited.
All this can’t be transmitted by manuscripts but should be transmitted orally, and this was the case since the Prophet’s age, then the disciples taught it to the next generation and so on, the same for the Hadith (quotes and life of Prophet Muhammad) , but in case of the Quran, more severe conditions were taken to accept the recitations, which is “tawator” as the Mutawatir hadiths, which means that an extensive number of people narrated it from extensive number of people that it is impossible that all these people conspire to lie or mistake. So in case of the Quran, even if a continuous right Isnad (chain of narrations) is present, this is not enough. But there must be extensive Isnads from different ways of transmission in a way that they can’t all mistake. Even transmission by word is not enough, but also by the right pronunciation, and there are books specialized in that issue.
Quran Preservation through Manuscripts
Concerning the manuscripts of the Quran, first of all there are early manuscripts referring to the first century as the manuscript of Topkapi and the manuscript in the Hussein mosque in Cairo, the manuscript of Tashkent probably refers to the second century, in addition to this, many fragments were found that refer to the first century. This is a detailed account on the manuscripts of the Quran. This is a detailed account on how the Quran was written.