Was the Originally Compiled Qur’an During the Era of Abu Bakr Incomplete?

Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah

Question: Assalamu alaykum

Was the originally compiled Qur’an during the era of Abu Bakr incomplete?

I have several proofs indicating that it was incomplete:

It is reported from Ismail ibn Ibrahim from Ayyub from Naafi from Ibn Umar who said: “Let none of you say ‘I have acquired the whole of the Qur’an’. How does he know what all of it is when much of the Qur’an has disappeared? Rather let him say ‘I have acquired what has survived.'” (as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur’an, p.524).

Umar was once looking for the text of a specific verse of the Qur’an he vaguely remembered. To his deep sorrow, he discovered that the only person who had any record of that verse had been killed in the battle of Yamama and that the verse was consequently lost. (Ibn Abi Daud, Kitab al-Masahif)

Zuhri reports, ‘We have heard that many Qur’an passages were revealed but that those who had memorised them fell in the Yemama fighting. Those passages had not been written down, and following the deaths of those who knew them, were no longer known; nor had Abu Bakr, nor `Umar nor `Uthman as yet collected the texts of the Qur’an.

Answer: In the Name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate           


Thank you for your question. May Allah grant you the best of states and guide you to what is pleasing to Him.


The simple answer to your ultimate question, of whether the originally compiled Qur’an was incomplete, is an emphatic, No. It was indeed complete, with no parts lost or missing.


Reading isolated texts or detailed religious discussions without firm and sound belief at the onset is somewhat of a grope in the dark. Moreover, without having learnt the fundamentals of the traditional Islamic sciences, including the auxiliary disciplines such as the Arabic language, and under qualified scholars, approaching translated texts can be hazardous. That is not to say, however, that we should not investigate and grapple with difficult or controversial texts. But this must only be done when certain fundamental beliefs and facts are in place. Therefore, before we come to the issues you mentioned, it would behove us to go over some of these basic realities.



The Qur’an is under Divine Protection


Allah, Most High, promises us unequivocally that, ‘We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption) [15:9], and that ‘No falsehood can approach it from before or behind it: It is sent down by One Full of Wisdom, Worthy of all Praise.’ [41:42], and finally that, ‘That this is indeed a Qur’an Most Honourable, In a Book well-guarded.’ [56:77-78].


These three verses alone should clear all doubt that the Qur’an that we have with us now, whether in book format (Mushaf) or through memorisation, is without a shadow of doubt the complete, unadulterated Qur’an that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him), through Gibril, from Allah Most High, who has preserved His Book as it was, as it is, and as it will ever be.


Although your question is not specifically asking if the Qur’an had been changed or hidden, it is important to note that the gravity of previous scriptures being hidden or changed is repeatedly mentioned in many places in the Qur’an. To give a couple of examples, ‘Who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah?‘ (2:140], and, ‘But because of their breach of their covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard; they change the words from their (right) places and forget a good part of the message that was sent them.’ [5:13]. This is contrasted to the Qur’an, which as we affirmed above, Allah has promised to guard and protect. Likewise, He Most High, says, ‘And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it.’


Therefore, it is appropriate to ask: Do we really think that after repeatedly criticising previous nations for hiding or changing their scripture, and after frequently informing us that God Himself, will protect the Qur’an, that God would then allow for some of the Final Revelation sent to mankind to be lost, or compiled incompletely after the Prophet’s death?


In his exegesis of the words, ‘We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)’ [15:9], Shaykh Tantaawi explains, ‘{Guard it} from every violation, such as distortion and corruption, alteration, addition to it or deduction / removal from it, contradiction and inconsistency, and disparity or variance. And it is protected through its inimitability, such that no one will [ever] be capable to oppose it or produce anything like unto it. And it is protected through [Allah’s ordaining] a group from amongst the children of this Muslim community who memorise it and guard what they committed to memory, and continue to defend it until Allah reclaims the earth and whomever is upon it.’ [al Tafsir al Wasit].


This is also the same explanation given in every other reliable book of Quranic Exegesis. If we want to remember only a couple of points from this explanation, we should note 1) the protection from any deduction or removal from the Qu’ran, 2) that is protected until the end of time.


Hypothetically speaking, even if we were to entertain the possibility that verses or chapters of the Qur’an had been lost, would we not believe that this was God’s doing? And that His preserving/guarding the Qu’ran still holds for whatever has been handed down to us from the Sahaba, as the final Qur’an that God wanted preserved? If so, and we have full conviction and faith that God has promised to preserve His Book, what does it matter that parts have been lost? Would it affect our faith in what remains in any way or our practice of the religion?


None of the Sahaba, including the Rightly Guided Caliphs, opposed the compiled Quran. To mention just a few out of many amongst those great Companions who had memorised the Qur’an, men and women, were, Abu Bakr, Umar bin Al-Khattab, Uthman Ibn Affan, Ali Ibn Abu Talib, Muadh ibn Jabal, Zayd ibn Thabit, Sa’d ibn Mua’dh, Abdullah ibn Umar, Zubayr ibn al-Awam, Fatimah al Zahraa’, Ibn Abbas, Hafsa bint Umar, Ayisha (may Allah be pleased with them all).


Nor did the Followers, or the great Imams or any scholar of the Ummah, and even the corrupt caliphs over the centuries, oppose the Qu’ran compiled by Sayyidna Abu Bakr, many of whom derived whole schools of legal rulings directly from the compiled Qur’an, and which the very foundation of the religious practice is built. It is of no doubt that these great companions and great scholars knew full well the responsibility and burden they carried in preserving the religion for future generations.


A reader may wonder what all this has to do with the specific questions that has been enquired about in the question, and why I am mentioning all this?! After all, it would suffice to simply answer whether such narrations are authentic or not. However, like many such discussions, there is a bigger picture.


One of my teachers was once explaining to me the erroneous theological statement of a certain group, that looks sensible and harmless on the outset, but when analysed critically, comes uncomfortably close to blasphemy.  He likened it to a dirty carpet which has been rolled up and put away. An onlooker will just see a carpet rolled up. But once you unravel it, and spread it out into full view, the full extent of the dirt it contains becomes apparent. Likewise, when we come across isolated narrations that seem to throw an ‘innocent’ or ‘scholarly’ spanner in the work, when we unravel it, unpacking what it suggests and concludes, we find the ultimate implication alluded to is actually full of putrid falsehood and deception, causing doubt and suspicion at the very core of one’s faith.


To say it more obviously, the conclusions or suggestion being made in some of the texts and works is essentially that the Qur’an is not inviolable, That God has not protected it, and that the Companions and scholars have either deliberately compiled a Quran that is not what was revealed to Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him), or were content that a second rate version of the Qur’an was compiled, which was put forth as the complete revelation from God.  All of which is reprehensible to any believer.


I finish this initial discussion with the following two hadiths which are pertinent to our topic,


Zaid bin Arqam (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘I am leaving among you two weighty things: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it. He exhorted (us) (to hold fast) to the Book of Allah and then said: The second are the members of my household I remind you (of your duties) to the members of my family.’ [Muslim]


Comment: The first thing the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) mentioned to adhere to and which one could not go astray with, was the Qur’an. It is inconceivable that He would have said this and Allah would let the Qur’an to be diminished in some way after his demise (peace and blessings be upon him).


It is narrated from Ibn ‘Umar that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Allah will not cause my ummah to agree on misguidance.’ [At-Tirmidhi]


Comment: Consensus of the scholars of this ummah constitutes as a binding proof on any matter. This means that any matter that has been wholly agreed upon cannot be incorrect or misguidance. There is consensus that the Qu’ran that was compiled and handed down to us is complete and as it was revealed to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Furthermore, the concept of Tawaatir is another binding proof, where a large number of people all relay and agree on the same information, so much so that it is impossible that they are lying or mistaken. It is handed down to us through thousands of reliable and impeccable personalities (let alone all Muslims) that the Qur’an we have today is the complete revelation of Allah to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).


The ‘Narrations’


1) It is reported from Ismail ibn Ibrahim from Ayyub from Naafi from Ibn Umar who said: “Let none of you say ‘I have acquired the whole of the Qur’an’. How does he know what all of it is when much of the Qur’an has disappeared? Rather let him say ‘I have acquired what has survived.'” (as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur’an, p.524).


The esteemed scholar, Shaykh Gibril F. Haddad has already answered this first question. Therefore, I will quote Shaykh Gibril in regards to this individual question:


‘This reference to the Itqan is untraceable as no edition of it is in less than two volumes to my knowledge. The above refers to a famous saying of Ibn `Umar, once again deceptively / ignorantly mistranslated so as to mislead readers to think it means other than its actual meaning.


The words used by Ibn `Umar for the terms given as “acquired,” “disappeared,” and “what has survived” above were — I am quoting from memory — respectively “ahattu” (I have encompassed), “faatahu” (escapes him), and “ma tayassara minhu” (whatever amount of it has been facilitated).


The actual meaning of Ibn `Umar’s words is: “Let no one say: I have encompassed the whole of the Qur’an [= its meanings]. How does he know what all of it is when much of the Qur’an escapes him? Rather, let him say: I have encompassed whatever amount of it has been facilitated [for me to know].”


Ibn `Umar was famous for his strictness in refraining from interpreting the Qur’an, even criticizing Ibn `Abbas’s interpretive zeal in the beginning, then accepting its authority. He was not referring to the collection of the Qur’an! But only to the ethics of the exegete, in the same line as Ibn `Abbas’s saying narrated by al-Tabari and cited by al-Suyuti and al-Zarkashi: “There are ambiguous verses in the Qur’an which no one knows besides Allah. Whoever claims that he knows them, is a liar.” Also Ibn `Abbas’s and `Abd al-Rahman ibn `Awf’s saying: “The Qur’an has an outward meaning, [literally ‘a back’] (zahr) and an inward meaning [literally ‘an inside’] (batn).”’



2) Umar and the ‘lost verse’


Umar was once looking for the text of a specific verse of the Qur’an he vaguely remembered. To his deep sorrow, he discovered that the only person who had any record of that verse had been killed in the battle of Yamama and that the verse was consequently lost. (Ibn Abi Daud, Kitab al-Masahif)


First let me provide the actual Arabic text from Al Masaahif with a translation:


حَدَّثَنا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ قَالَ: حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ خَلَّادٍ قَالَ: حَدَّثَنَا يَزِيدُ قَالَ: أَخْبَرَنَا مُبَارَكٌ، عَنِ الْحَسَنِ، أَنَّ عُمَرَ بْنَ الْخَطَّابِ سَأَلَ عَنْ آيَةٍ مِنْ كِتَابِ اللَّهِ فَقِيلَ كَانَتْ مَعَ فُلَانٍ فَقُتِلَ يَوْمَ .الْيَمَامَةِ فَقَالَ: إِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَأَمَرَ بِالْقُرْآنِ فَجُمِعَ

The above text, which is directly from al Masaahif, translates as (after the chain of transmission),


Umar bin al Khattab enquired about a verse from the Book of Allah and was told it had been with a certain person who had been killed on the day [battle] of Yamama. Upon which he [Umar] said ‘Verily we belong to Allah’ and ordered the Qur’an [to be gathered] and so it was compiled.’


There are a number of fundamental points to be made here.

a) That the translation the questioner has put forth is not an accurate translation of the original text at all. Perhaps I have missed it elsewhere in the book but a thorough search has only bought up the narration I have provided above.  More alarming, is that the sentences in the questioners version, ‘he vaguely remembered’, ‘To his deep sorrow’, and ‘the verse was consequently lost’ are nowhere to be found in al Masaahif.


I am not sure which translation the questioner is reading from. However, it has been documented that the English translation of Kitab al Masaahif by the Christian orientalist Arthur Jeffery, and many of his other works, is not an accurate translation, if not deliberately misleading. [see Aara’ al-Mustashriqin Hawl al-Qur’an al-Karim wa Tafsir: Dirasah Wa Naqd]. Regardless, the translation offered is at best a very poor translation, and at worst, an outright lie.

b) Sayyidna Umar was looking for a written copy of the verse. As we will discuss below, during the life of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him), the Qur’an was written in parts by different Companions and on various materials. Sayyidna Umar already knew the verse he was looking for by heart (as he was a hafidh), as did numerous amounts of the other Companions and most likely the person he asked about it!


It is clear that Sayyidna Umar was not asking for the verse because he did not know it, or it had not been memorised by others, or that it had been forgotten or lost somehow. He wanted the material it was written on, a hard copy as it were. This is clear by the use of the word ‘مَعَ’ here. The preposition مَعَ has the meaning of ‘with’ and indicates two things being together. So the meaning is that the verse was ‘with’ a particular person. This cannot be understood, either in English or Arabic, as, ‘it was memorised with a certain person, or ‘it was known with a certain person who had been killed’. Rather, the correct and only meaning is, ‘the copy, or written material, of that verse, was with/had been with a certain person who had been killed.’


Once we understand this, we can see that the meaning of the narration does not in any way contradict the fact that the Qur’an compiled by Sayyidna Abu Bakr is the complete revelation. In fact, the loss of these ‘hard copies’ of written Qur’an was the very reason why Sayyidna Umar put the case forward to Sayyidna Abu Bakr to compile the Quran in book form. Why? Because once the written pieces were lost all that would be left is the memorisers of Qur’an. And once these the memorisers of Qur’an would be lost, through battles and natural death, who would be left? It was of the brilliance of Sayyidna Umar that he realised that it was the right time, and perhaps only time to compile the Qur’an for future generations, and it had to be done through collating both the written words and the memorised words for total accuracy and absolute authenticity.

c) It is worthwhile mentioning that the narration is Munqat’i (broken chain), which means it is weak. This doesn’t mean that the account of events are untrue, but the narration it is not rigorously authenticated.

d) Though we have clarified the narration in question, we should note that it is normal to find all sorts of narrations in the books of Quranic exegesis, history, biographies etc. Many of the scholars, particularly the early ones, used to write books which were a culmination of every piece of information they could find on the given subject. Often times, they did not state or separate the strong, weak, fabricated or sound narrations. This was not their mission. Their role was to collect and present everything as they found it. Therefore, when one reads such books we should understand this point and not jump to conclusions when we first read something. The task of filtering through such works requires expertise and scholarly precision, let alone a lot of time. It is also a testament to the truthfulness and veracity of our scholars that they did this, as it would have been easy for them to be selective and choose what suits them or only that which supports their opinions. Rather they compiled and passed down everything they could gather so that later scholars could critically assess and scrutinise each piece of information, and this is something they did meticulously.

e) We find that in some biographies, such as Siyyar al Nubulaa’, of Ibn Abu Dawud, there is reference to the Imam being called a liar. It has been stated more than once that his own father had called him this, and that others sufficed themselves with his father’s comment. However, if one reads further on in the same book and looks at other biographic books, we find a different picture, and that Ibn Abu Dawud is held by the majority of scholars of hadith as an Imam in the science, and indeed many of his contemporaries and subsequent scholars of hadith stated that he was more expert in hadith than his own father! Therefore, there is some discrepancy between these two pictures.


Some of the scholars state that Abu Dawud calling his son a liar was recorded when Abu Dawud was angry at his son for some reason not connected to knowledge, whilst others state that it was a passing comment referring to either Ibn Dawud’s character during his youth, or the fact that he liked to joke when speaking with people, but state that he did not joke at all, lie, or mix his words when it came to relating hadith or any other knowledge, and this is evident by the fact that he is stated as fulfilling all the conditions of a sound narrator of hadith. [see Siyyar al Nubulaa’]


Whatever the reasons and debate surrounding the personality of Ibn Abu Dawud, it does not take away from his work. It is best that we only have the highest opinion of Ibn Abu Dawud, like all scholars, particularly because the vast majority of hadith scholars regard him as an expert and Imam in the field. Therefore, like all works, one should approach Ibn Abu Dawud’s works with objectiveness and critical analyses, whilst observing absolute manners and high opinion of him. And Allah knows best.

3) Variant Quranic copies
In the book ‘Ulum Al-Quran: Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an Paperback – 1 Nov 1994 by Ahmad Von Denffer (Author) it clearly states some companions had slightly different Quran text & whilst it can be simple to state these Qurans may have contained abrogated verses it’s interesting to read that one of the Qurans was even missing Surah Fatiha.


When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would receive revelation, it would be impressed in his memory. He would pass the revelation to his companions in its entirety and instruct some to write it down and memorise. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had a number of scribes, one of these being Sayyidna Zaid bin Thabit. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would himself check these writings by having the scribes/memorisers recite back to him what they have written and memorised. If there were any mistakes, the Prophet would correct it immediately and then present it in front of everyone.


Each Ramadhan, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would revise and confirm the Qur’an and its order with the Angel Gibril. During the last Ramadhan before his death, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) revised the Qur’an with Sayyidna Gibril twice. Therefore, the Quran and its complete writings and memorisation by companions was revised and supervised constantly by the Prophet himself during his lifetime, and he did not leave this world except that what was left was the complete and authentic Qur’an as it had been revealed to him (peace and blessings be upon him), though it was not in book form, but in different parchments, skins, bones, and stones etc.

Whilst the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had official scribes, and there were those who were well known to have been ‘official’ memorisers of the Book, many of the Companions nevertheless wrote down the revelation themselves and memorised what they could. These collections, of course, were not verified by the Prophet or any of the scribes, being as they were, personal writings of each person.

It is absolutely conceivable then, that amongst these personal writings, parts of the Qur’an were not written or included, or there were some mistakes in them. The fact that surahs, including the Fatiha, were missing in certain copies merely means that just like there were many copies which were complete, other copies belonging to various individuals were incomplete. This has no ramification or consequence on the final compilation of the Quran scrupulously undertaken by Sayiddna Zaid bin Thabit under the order of Sayiddna Abu Bakr and with the assistance of Sayiddna Umar (may Allah be please with them all).

Sayyidna Zayd bin Thabit was extremely cautious and diligent when collating the material. He gathered both the various pieces of Qur’an that were written during the time of theProphet (peace and blessings be upon him) and what was memorised by different companions. Each piece was verified through his own memory and verified by Sayiddna Umar, who himself was a Hafidh. Meticulously upright and reliable witnesses were also bought forth to testify that each piece that was written was done so in the presence of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Each piece was collated and compared to the collections of other companions. Sayyidna Abu Bakr, himself a Hafidh, and the greatest of the Companions, affirmed the final compilation.

This exact same Qu’ran, revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and compiled by his closest Companions, is what has been handed down to us today, in full, and despite the efforts of many to undermine and corrupt it, is still memorised and written by Muslims all over the world and will continue do so until Allah wills.


Warmest salams,

[Shaykh] Jamir Meah

Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007 I travelled to Tarim, Yemen, where I spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with my main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, I moved to Amman, Jordan, where I continue advanced study in a range of sciences, as well as teaching. Away from the Islamic sciences, I am a qualified Homeopath, and run a private clinic in Amman.