Authentication is a modern time obsession. We all worry about forgery of money, credit cards, legal papers, even falsified research methods and conclusions, products, all the way to news, historical events and even literature. We doubt everything nowadays. So, how can we be sure that anything is real? What can lead us to certainty and conviction? What is authenticity?
Well, we’re human; so we rely on our minds.
To be certain of anything we must be convinced of its authenticity, that it has not been altered or tampered with. This is why we device meticulous ways to make sure. The more thorough and clever the way, the more we believe.
In this article we will show the extensive, thorough and precise ways that were created by the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), his companions and the following Muslims to insure that Quran (Book of Islam) and Hadith (teachings of the Prophet) reach us and remain for all times unaltered.
What is Islamic Text?
In Islam, Quran and Hadith are the sources for the belief system, the form of worship and all legal rulings.
Quran is defined as: The miraculous speech of Allah (The Creator of Heavens and Earth), revealed to (sent down upon) the last Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), through the Angel Gabriel, in its precise meaning and precise wording, transmitted to us by numerous reliable people, both verbally and in writing. It is inimitable, unique and protected by God against corruption.
Hadith is defined as: The prophetic traditions including whatever is transmitted from the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH): his actions, sayings, tacit approvals. It is believed that the Prophet’s sayings, actions and tacit approvals were primarily based on revelation from Allah but in the words of the Prophet (PBUH) and, as such, must be considered a fundamental source of guidance second only to the Qur’an.
How was Quran preserved from corruption?
Revelation of Quran started during the last ten days of the month of Ramadan during the year 610 AD when the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) reached forty years of age. It was revealed in stages over almost twenty three years up until nine days before death of the Prophet (PBUH).
Quran’s transmission to us was accomplished by two concomitant ways: oral and written forms.
A – Memorization and Oral transmission:
This tradition was, still is and will always remain a primary way for protecting Quran against manipulation and corruption as it is a highly rewarded act of worship in Islam to read, recite and memorize Quran. This is the short story of how it started:
- The Prophet (PBUH) was the first to commit the revealed verses to his memory after receiving them from the Angel Gabriel.
- Then the Prophet would declare the verses to his companions to memorize tell them the exact place where it should be sequential wise and encourage them to teach others and so on.
- The Quran is constantly recited in and out of prayers and at any time and place as a form of worship, and memorizing it is praised by the Prophet and rewarded by Allah.
- The Prophet (PBUH) used to listen to the recitation of Quran by the companions to correct them and make sure it is as he received it.
- Memorizers of Quran were sent to groups and communities of new Muslims to teach them Quran and Islam.
- There was a group of the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) called “The Memorizers”. They were honorable pious Muslims, with retentive memory and great character that He revised the entire Quran with periodically up until His death.
- During the Ramadan preceding Muhammad’s death (PBUH), Gabriel had made him recite it twice rather than once as usual. It is known how Muslims keep vigil in worship during Ramadan, and of reciting the whole of the Quran in addition to the usual prayers. Several sources add that the Prophet’s scribe Zaid was present at this final bringing-together of the texts. Elsewhere, numerous other personalities are mentioned as well.
- It was in the heart of many companions and it was transmitted to generation after generation till we have it now, we still have large number of people memorizing the whole Quran.
B – Transmission of the written Quran:
As Quran was revealed in stages, we can find reliable evidences of the writing starting from the beginning of its revelation as follows:
- During the life time of the Prophet (PBUH) there were more than twenty Companions that used to be summoned immediately after revelation to write down the verses on parchment, leather, wooden tablets, camels’ scapula, soft stone for inscriptions, etc. He used to ask the scribe to reread back to him what had been dictated so that He could correct any deficiencies.
- During the rule of the first Caliph of Islam Abu Bakr (632) and On Omar’s initiative (the future second Caliph), he “Abu Bakr” asked the head scribe, Zaid Ibn Thâbit, to make a full compiled and authenticated copy of Quran. This he did.
Zaid consulted all the information at Madina: the witness of two of the Hafizun (memorizers), copies of the Book written on various materials written for personal use belonging to some companions, and what scribes have written by order, supervision and scrutiny of the Prophet Himself during His life, all with the object of avoiding possible errors in transcription. Thus an extremely faithful copy of the Book was obtained.
- Caliph Omar, Abu Bakr’s successor in 634, subsequently made a single volume (mushaf) that he preserved and gave on his death to his daughter Hafsa, the Prophet’s widow.
- The third Caliph of Islam, Uthman (644 – 655), entrusted a group of Companions (four) with Zaid as their leader. They checked the authenticity of the document produced under Abu Bakr which had remained in Hafsa’s possession until that time. The committee consulted Muslims who knew the text by heart, other written Mushafs that some of the companions kept for personal use and the one written and kept with Hafsa, the Prophet’s widow. They ran a second round of authentication of the written Quran (Mushaf). The outcome Mushaf was called “Uthmany Mushaf” as it was written during his rule, from which all Mushafs are authenticated till this day.
One might ponder about the motives that led the first three Caliphs, especially Uthman, to commission collection and authentication of the text of Quran. It is in fact very obvious: Islam’s spread in the very first decades following the Prophet Mohammad’s death was very rapid and it happened among peoples whose mother tongue was not Arabic. It was vital to ensure the presence and spread of one authentic text that retained its original purity.
Food for thought
What book on God’s earth starts with asserting that it is “The True Book”? Usually writers apologise for mistakes and overlooks.
What book would contain a standing challenge to whom ever to come up with a like of it, some of it or even one chapter of it? Usually competition is feared and fought.
What book would push readers and command them to think, contemplate, search and research every piece of information in it? Usually scrutiny is dreaded. 
How was Hadith (Sunnah) preserved from corruption?
The two terms Hadith and Sunnah often are used as synonyms for the prophet’s traditions. As defined earlier, Sunnah is the entire twenty or so years of the life of Mohammad (PBUH) ever since revelation started until nine days before Him passing away. Naturally Muslims were busy learning their religion, spreading the words of God and establishing their state. So, how was it possible to document that important source of legislation? Simple, in stages to:
- During the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH).
- During the time of the Caliphs.
- The First official command to compile all the Sunnah
- A new phase of development in the documentation of hadith during the third-century Hijri.
- The final stage of writing the Sunnah.
- During the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH):
It is generally known that the Prophet (PBUH) discouraged documentation of his own sayings and Sunnah at the early stages of his mission in order to preserve the purity of Qur’an and prevent the possibility of confusion between the Qur’an and his Sunnah, but latter on He gave His permission to some wise companions to do so. We have references to papers written by some of the Companions for their personal Knowledge and use, the contents of which found its place in the Major collection books of Hadith.
- During the time of the Caliphs:
After the Prophet’s death, the Companions took from one another without doubting the honesty of one another.
The Companions had different views concerning writing down the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH).
Some were against it: ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, ‘Abd Allh Ibn Masud, Zayd Ibn Thabit, Abu Musa alAsh’ari, and Abu Sa’id al-Khudri
Others were for it: Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Al-Hasan Ibn Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Anas Ibn Malik, Abd Allah Ibn Amr Ibn Al-‘As
Later on things changed. In the introduction of Saheeh Muslim (A major Sunnah Collection book), Imam Muslim related that Ibn Sireen said:
They would not ask for the chain (of narrators), but when the “Fitnah” occurred (a civil war), they said, “Name us your men”. They would see who was from the people of the Sunnah and take their Hadith, and they would see who was from the people of innovation and not take their Hadith.” [Muqaddimah Saheeh Muslim, 1/13-15]
This is when the authentication process started. Very strict conditions were put to whom should be accepted as a narrator of Sunnah, and detailed biographies were written about each man in each chain of each Hadith. Fabricators of Hadith were known; their narrations were refused and excluded.
- The First official command to compile all the Sunnah:
The Umayyad Caliph, Umar Ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (d. 101 H) was the first to take up the issue and assigned to the governor of Madina, Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Hazm (d. 117 H) the task to collect and document the Sunnah of the Prophet, and to “Accept nothing other than the hadith of the Prophet (PBUH)” and Muhammad Ibn Muslim Ibn Shihab Al-Zuhri (d. 124 H) the teacher of Imam Malik, who responded to the call and attempted what proved to be the first major collection of Hadith, but the Caliph passed away and didn’t see the fruits of his important initiative.
Al-Zuhri started compiling an extensive Hadith collection that was later accomplished during the second and third centuries. His method of writing was “subject-oriented”, consisted of separate books each on Sunnah pertaining to an individual subject.
- A new phase of development in the documentation of hadith during the third-century Hijri:
One of the distinctive features of the writings of this period was the isolation of the Sunnah of the Prophet from the sayings of the Companions and fatwas (opinions) of the learned figures among the Follower and scholars.
The earliest works of this period were:
- Musnad of Abu Dawud Al-Tayallsi (d 204 H)
- Musnad of Imam Ahmad h Hanbal (d, 241 H)
- The final stage of writing the Sunnah:
By the end of the second and beginning of the third Hijri century, the science of Hadith took form. Several new ways of sorting Hadith in books were introduced and more branches of this science emerged and more scholars studied Sunnah and worked on authentication techniques.
The last stage in the development of hadith literature was the third century compilations, through the works mainly of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, referred to as Al-Sahihan (the two authentic collections). It is said that Al-Bukhari’s Sahih is the most authentic book in hand second only to Quran. 
It is amazing, the amount of effort, dedication, patience, sincerity and intellect that was invested in authenticating Islamic text (Quran and Sunnah). No matter how hard one tries to find a more original book of religion, one would not find. All that text is preserved as pure and original as the day it was revealed 1438 years ago.
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