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The Preservation of the Qur’an For Posterity

Munir Munshey
3/21/2009
1392 views

Society has never been inclined or eager to embrace a new religion. It resists notions that threaten to change the old ways.  The history of Buddhism and Christianity is similar. The founder was not taken seriously during his lifetime. Those in power treated him as a pariah, intellectuals shunned him and the jesters earned a few laughs at his expense. Very few people heard, and fewer still answered, his call. The initial converts were oppressed and obscure people, who were poorly organized, wielded no influence and had meager resources. They were deprived and downtrodden, and invoked nothing but contempt from the society.  The early events in the life of the movement largely passed unnoticed by society.

 

History ignored the new religion completely and failed to record the life and teaching of its founder. The followers, too, wrote nothing down. What motivated them was the life to come, and success in this world, either for themselves or for their movement, was not their goal. They shunned the world and sought solace in spiritual salvation. The religion grew at a snail’s pace and entered a new phase as it crossed into foreign lands.  Persecution tested their endurance and the influx of foreign ideas infested their faith. The untended and unintended spread coupled with the reliance on ambiguous oral traditions, led to diverse interpretations of the teachings, and conflicting accounts of the early events. Apart from belief in a dogma, the religion did not burden its followers much, and several sects flourished. Centuries later, the religion gained popularity and respectability, when it unexpectedly acquired the political patronage of those in power, and became the state religion.  This belated adoption of the religion by the state was actually the acceptance of only its dogma. The teachings were too quaint and quixotic, and were confined to Sunday sermons. Law, and the affairs of the state, remained independent of them. It was only then that history became interested in the religion and the life and teachings of its founder. Historians searched their sources and drew a blank.  Their annals had made no mention of the new religion or its founder. Accurate and independent accounts were absent because centuries had elapsed between its inception and its acceptance as a state religion. The only available sources were the oral traditions, and a few sketchy accounts of the second and third generation disciples. History could not separate facts from fiction and the life of the founder and the early events of the religion remained shrouded in mystery. Exaggeration made the founder of the religion seem more like a fictional character, not a real person. Centuries later, even some of the adherents are unsure whether their religion was built around a mythical being, or did he actually exist.

 

 

 

 

In sharp contrast, the Qur’an was revealed in the full glare of history. The prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) endured thirteen years of persecution. Then, a community a couple of hundred miles from his birth town, embraced Islam and the prophet (peace be upon him), along with believers from all over Arabia, migrated there. A unique community came into existence comprising of people from all tribes, and the bonds of belief replaced old ties of tribe, family, race, and nationality. Some believers belonged to foreign lands. Under the leadership of Muhammad (peace be upon him), the new community was willing to put the ideology into practice. The rest of Arabia felt threatened and tribes forged an alliance to defeat the believers. An intense struggle waged for ten years and led to several battles. The prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) was the chief legislator, and the chief executive of the new state. Above all he was the messenger of God.  His teachings were the law of the land, not just moral injunctions. His proclamations affected people and politics. The battles he fought and the alliances he formed affected not only his community, but also the entire geo-political entity.  He was not just a sage but a head of state, and was recognized as such by all including those who did not believe in him. 

  

During the life of the prophet (peace be upon him), Islam gained total domination over the entire Arabian Peninsula. History, therefore, could not ignore the founder of this movement, or his teachings. His sayings and actions were recorded as those of a head of state. The letters he sent to other heads of state were officially received and given diplomatic status. Some of them are still preserved in museums around the world. The contemporary historians chronicled the speeches his emissaries delivered in the courts of the kings and emperors. The private historians of the Roman and the Persian Empires noted in their diaries and journal the birth of the new ideology, and the events as they happened. Both super powers attempted to influence the outcome of the struggle being waged in Arabia. Their intelligence agencies, because it was vital to their interest, gathered information and studied the impact of the new religion upon their own civilization. The records of the life and the teachings of the prophet (peace be upon him) were compiled for different reasons by adherents and opponents, as well as concerned and unconcerned international observers. Of course, the followers compiled a detailed account, and carefully recorded and memorized everything the prophet (peace be upon him) said. His public as well as his private life is known to all. History does not maintain such a meticulous account of the private and public life of any other individual in the world.

 

 






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