Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Zaid ibn Thabit r.a

A Scribe for the Prophet s.a.w

It was in the second year of the Hijrah. Madinah the city of the Prophet s.a.w is buzzing with activity as the Muslims prepare for the long march southwards to Badr. The noble Prophet s.a.w made a final inspection of the first army to be mobilized under his leadership to wage Jihad against those who had tormented the Muslims for many years and who were still bent on putting an end to his mission.

A youth, not yet thirteen, walked up to the ranks. He was confident and alert. He held a sword which was as long as or possibly slightly longer than his own height. He went up to the Prophet s.a.w, and said: "I dedicate myself to you, Messenger of Allah. Permit me to be with you and to fight the enemies of Allah under your banner." The noble Prophet s.a.w looked at him with admiration and patted his shoulder with loving tenderness. He commended him for his courage but refused to enlist him because he was still too young.

The youth, Zaid ibn Thabit, turned and walked away, dejected and sad. As he walked, in slow and measured paces, he stuck his sword in the ground as a sign of his disappointment. He was denied the honor of accompanying the Prophet s.a.w on his first campaign. Behind him was his mother, An-Nuwar bint Malik. She felt equally dejected and sad. She had dearly wished to see her young son go with the army of mujahidin and to be with the Prophet s.a.w at this most critical time.

One year later, as preparations were underway for the second encounter with the Quraish which took place at Uhud, a group of Muslim teenagers bearing arms of various kinds - swords, spears, bows and arrows and shields - approached the Prophet s.a.w. They were seeking to be enlisted in any capacity in the Muslim ranks. Some of them, like Rafi ibn Khadij and Samurah ibn Jundub, who were strong and well-built for their age and who demonstrated their ability to wrestle and handle weapons, were granted permission by the Prophet s.a.w to join the Muslim forces. Others like Abdullah ibn Umar and Zaid ibn Thabit were still considered by the Prophet s.aw to be too young and immature to fight. He promised though to consider them for a later campaign. It was only at the Battle of the Ditch when Zaid was about sixteen years old that he was at last allowed to bear arms in defence of the Muslim community.

Although Zaid was keen to participate in battles, it is not as a warrior that he is remembered. After his rejection for the Badr campaign, he accepted the fact then that he was too young to fight in major battles. His alert mind turned to other fields of service, which had no connection with age and which could bring him closer to the Prophet s.a.w. He considered the field of knowledge and in particular of memorizing the Qur'an. He referred to the thought to his mother. She was delighted and immediately made attempts to have his ambition realized. An-Nuwar spoke to some men of the Ansar about the youth's desire and they in turn broached the matter with the Prophet, saying: "O Messenger of Allah, our son Zaid ibn Thabit has memorized seventeen surahs of the Book of Allah and recites them as correctly as they were revealed to you. In addition to that he is good at reading and writing. It is in this field of service that he desires to be close to you. Listen to him if you will."

The Prophet s.a.w listened to Zaid reciting some surahs he had memorized. His recitation was clear and beautiful and his stops and pauses indicated clearly that he understood well what he recited. The Prophet s.a.w was pleased. Indeed he found that Zaid's ability exceeded the commendation he had been given by his relatives. The Prophet s.a.w then set him a task which required intelligence, skill and persistence.

"Zaid, learn the writing of the Jews for me," instructed the Prophet s.a.w. "At your command, Messenger of Allah," replied Zaid who set about learning Hebrew with enthusiasm. He became quite proficient in the language and wrote it for the Prophet s.a.w when he wanted to communicate with the Jews. Zaid also read and translated from Hebrew when the Jews wrote to the Prophet s.a.w. The Prophet s.a.w instructed him to learn Syriac also and this he did. Zaid thus came to perform the important function of an interpreter for the Prophet s.a.w in his dealings with non-Arabic speaking peoples.

Zaid's enthusiasm and skill were obvious. When the Prophet s.a.w felt confident of his faithfulness in the discharge of duties and the care, precision and understanding with which he carried out tasks, he entrusted Zaid with the weighty responsibility of recording the Divine revelation.

When any part of the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet s.a.w, he often called for Zaid and instructed him to bring the writing materials, "the parchment, the ink-pot and the scapula", and write the revelation.

Zaid was not the only one who acted as a scribe for the Prophet s.a.w. One source has listed forty-eight persons who used to write for him. Zaid was very prominent among them. He did not only write but during the Prophet's time he collected portions of the Qur’an that were written down by others and arranged these under the supervision of the Prophet s.a.w. He is reported to have said:

"We used to compile the Qur’an from small manuscripts in the presence of the Prophet s.a.w" In this way, Zaid experienced the Qur’an directly from the Prophet s.a.w himself. It could be said that he grew up with the verses of the Qur’an, understanding well the circumstances surrounding each revelation. He thus became well-versed in the secrets of the Shari’ah and at an early age gained the well-deserved reputation as a leading scholar among the companions of the Prophet.

After the death of the Prophet, s.a.w, the task fell on this fortunate young man who specialized in the Qur’an to authenticate the first and most important reference for the ummah of Muhammad. This became an urgent task after the wars of apostasy and the Battle of Yamamah in particular in which a large number of those who had committed the Qur’an to memory perished.

Umar Al-Khattab convinced the Khalifah Abu Bakar As-Siddiq that unless the Qur’an was collected in one manuscript, a large part of it was in danger of being lost. Abu Bakar summoned Zaid ibn Thabit and said to him: "You are an intelligent young man and we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of forgetfulness) and you used to write the Divine revelation for Allah's Messenger. Therefore look for (all parts of) the Qur’an and collect it in one manuscript."

Zaid was immediately aware of the weighty responsibility. He later said: "By Allah, if he (Abu Bakr) had ordered me to shift one of the mountains from its place, it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Qur’an."

Zaid finally accepted the task and, according to him, "started locating the Qur’anic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leafstalks of date palms and from the memories of men (who knew it by heart)".

It was a painstaking task and Zaid was careful that not a single error, however slight or unintentional, should creep into the work. When Zaid had completed his task, he left the prepared suhuf or sheets with Abu Bakar. Before he died, Abu Bakar left the suhuf with Umar who in turn left it with his daughter Hafsah. Hafsah, Umm Salamah and Aishah were wives of the Prophet, may Allah be pleased with them, who memorized the Qur’an.

During the time of Uthman ibn Affan , by which time Islam had spread far and wide, differences in reading the Qur’an became obvious. A group of companions of the Prophet, headed by Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, who was then stationed in Iraq, came to Uthman and urged him to "save the Muslim ummah before they differ about the Qur’an".

Uthman obtained the manuscript of the Qur’an from Hafsah and again summoned the leading authority, Zaid ibn Thabit, and some other competent companions to make accurate copies of it. Zaid was put in charge of the operation. He completed the task with the same meticulousness with which he compiled the original suhuf during the time of Abu Bakar.

Zaid and his assistants wrote many copies. One of these Uthman sent to every Muslim province with the order that all other Qur’anic materials whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies be burnt. This was important in order to eliminate any variations or differences from the standard text of the Qur’an. Uthman kept a copy (mushaf) for himself and returned the original manuscript to Hafsah.

Zaid ibn Thabit thus became one of the foremost authorities on the Qur’an. Umar ibn al-Khattab once addressed the Muslims and said: "O people, whoever wants to ask about the Qur’an, let him go to Zaid ibn Thabit."

And so it was that seekers of knowledge from among the companions of the Prophet and the generation who succeeded them, known as the "Tabi’un", came from far and wide to benefit from his knowledge. When Zaid died, Abu Hurayrah said: "Today, the scholar of this ummah has died."

When a Muslim holds the Qur’an and reads it or hears it being recited, surah after surah, ayah after ayah, he should know that he owes a tremendous debt of gratitude and recognition to a truly great companion of the Prophet, Zaid ibn Thabit, for helping to preserve for all time to come the Book of Eternal Wisdom. Truly did Allah, the Blessed and Exalted, say: "Surely We have revealed the Book of Remembrance and We shall certainly preserve it." (Surah al-Hijr, 15:9)

See: Brief History of compilation of Al-Qur'an

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