A Perfect Text Rooted in an Imperfect Tradition?
Muslims believe in the perfect textual preservation of the Quran.
The original texts of most of the former divine Books were lost altogether, and only their translations exist today. The Qur’an, on the other hand, exists exactly as it had been revealed to the Prophet; not a word – nay, not a dot of it – has been changed. It is available in its original text and the Word of God has been preserved for all times to come. (Abul A’la Maududi, Towards Understanding Islam [Gary: IN, 1970], 109)
However, Muslim belief in the perfect textual preservation of the Quran is rooted in an imperfectly preserved tradition known as the sunnah and hadith. 1The sunna constitutes the authenticated traditions of the Prophet [Muhammad], i.e. all his properly verified words and deeds (along with the actions of others which met with his consent). Hundreds of thousands of these traditions exist; a single tradition is termed hadith (The History of The Qur’anic Text: From Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments [Leicester: UK Islamic Academy, 2003], p.39 f.n.96).
Who Collected the Quran?
The hadith appear to differ about who collected the Quran. Bukhari records two traditions. In the first, Bukhari lists the names of four men who collected the Quran: Ubai bin Ka’b, Muadh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit, and Abu Zaid:
Narrated Qatada: I asked Anas bin Malik: Who collected the Qur’an at the time of the Prophet? He replied, Four, all of whom were from the Ansar, Ubai bin Ka’b, Muadh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit and Abu Zaid. (Sahih Bukhari 6:61:525)
In another tradition Bukhari lists the four men as: Abu Ad Darda, Mu’adh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit, and Abu Zaid:
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
When the Prophet died, none had collected the Qur’an but four persons: Abu Ad Darda, Mu’adh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit and Abu Zaid. We were the inheritor (of Abu Zaid) as he had no offspring. (Sahih Bukhari 6:61:526)
Why are different names given?
The Collection of the Quran and the Authorship of the Gospels
Knowing that there is a difference is important because Muslims often argue that since the Gospels do not contain the names of authors that we can’t know who wrote them. But this is not true. Early Christians gave unanimous testimony to who wrote the Gospels (see the below video with notes).
Since Muslim belief and practice is rooted in traditions that don’t always agree and were recorded some 200 years after Muhammad’s death, then they should not have a hard time believing the early and unanimous testimony to the authorship of the Gospels.
So the next time a Muslim tells you we don’t know the authors of the four Gospels, give the following names:
- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
- Ubai bin Ka’b, Muadh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit, and Abu Zaid OR Abu Ad Darda, Mu’adh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit, and Abu Zaid.
Who Wrote the Gospels? by Timothy McGrew
For the notes to this lecture see:
See Azami, Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature
To learn more about whether the Quran has been perfectly preserved see: