When talking about Islam, especially if someone is newly introduced to Islam, there is always this question: Who wrote the Quran? How did it come into existence? The answer is not very simple. A short Islamic answer to the question is that the Quran is the direct spoken word of Allah, who is almighty, all-knowing and omnipresent according to Islamic belief. Muslims believe that Allah spoke his words directly through Gabriel to Muhammad who then revealed it to his followers. But in reality it went through a huge and questionable process. I want to go through that process with you, provide some information but also look at it from a critical skeptic perspective.
The actual Islamic belief held by the vast majority of Islamic scholars is as follows. Muhammad was a merchant in Mecca Arabia in the 6th and 7th centuries. For a while he had dreams that reportedly came true in reality which no one can prove of course. And he loved going to a cave called Hira and retreating for a while where after he would go to Khadija, his employer and wife, to discuss his spiritual activities that he claimed he had. One day in the cave in 610, when he was 40, he was suddenly visited by the angel Gabriel who told Muhammad to read. Muhammad said, “I can’t read.” so Gabriel squeezed him and told him again to read. At this time Muhammad was like. “I can’t read, what am I supposed to read?” And Gabriel squeezed him again so hard that Muhammad was overwhelmed and Gabriel recited the first verses of the Quran. (Sahih Bukhari 1:1:3) “Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging substance. Recite and your Lord is the most generous. Who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not.” (Surah 96:1-5)
These five verses are believed to be the first revelation and are in today’s Quran in chapter 96. The chapter has more verses than that but those are believed to have been revealed at a later time. During Muhammad’s entire lifetime, there was no book call to the Quran. The Quran was only verbally revealed by Muhammad verse-by-verse depending on what he had to deal with currently, and it was written down and memorized by people around him. Muhammad would praise people who memorized the Quran and would give others the duty to do so. That’s why more and more people who trusted him memorized his words, which he claimed were from Allah. But that’s why memorizing the Quran is still seen as a very honorable and pious thing to do in Islam although it had no special meaning in other contemporary cultures like the Romans and has no big importance in today’s time where you have little gods in your pockets.
Only when Muhammad died that his followers come together and decided to compile all the Quran verses and turn it into one book. There were hundreds of people who memorized parts of the Quran and dozens of people who wrote down Quran verses. Dozens of scribes who had separate written parts of the Quran. The Sunni belief is that hundreds of those who memorized it were killed in a battle after Muhammad’s death on the first caliph Abu Bakr’s rule. And that Umar who would later become the second caliph urged Abu Bakr to compile the Quran. Abu Bakr then gave a man called Zayd ibn Thabit who was Muhammad’s scribe the mission to compile all verses that were scattered among scribes. In a narration Zayd says that this was an almost impossible thing to do and the hadith also points out that Muhammad never ordered or did such a thing. According to vastly approved evidence, Muhammad never explicitly stated the idea to compile all the Quran verses into one book. Zayd did his best and collected everything he found, even from the memorizers. And he put together this collection with the help of a few other people. (Sahih Bukhari 9:89:301)
From an objective point of view, especially among historians, you would never trust the authenticity of something that was brought together by one person from completely unknown origins and then later on turned into a huge book by again multiple other people. Considering that we are talking about Arabia in the 600’s, it’s even less credible. Because Arabia didn’t have a history of credible reports and books. But in Islam, you could view this as a miracle because it’s certainly not believable. It’s certainly not trustworthy. And by adding this Quran verse, you have to believe that it was a miracle. “Indeed, it is We who sent down the Quran and indeed, it is We who will be its guardian?” (Surah 15:9)
That’s not all. According to Islamic belief. Even after this happened, there was not one single form of the Quran. There were so many different ones with verses varying among the owners. Also Arabic was not a strong and unitary language. There were many different dialects and ways to read a text. And since Arabic didn’t have very well outlined rules back then, the scribes and the readers had their own versions of the Quran. That’s why a task was initiated most probably by Uthman the third caliph to unify the Quran by creating one canonized form of the Quran, which would overrule all other Quran. The purpose was to create specifications of vowels and diacritical points in accordance with one specific dialect of Arabic so that the Quran cannot be understood differently by reading it differently. (Sahih Bukhari 6:61:510) Because in Arabic, a word can be spelt the exact same way but can have a different outcome and meaning depending on how you read it. Look at this for example.
All of these are spelled the same way but have different meanings The vowel indicators and diacritics define the meanings. Uthman wanted to prevent this and created a final canonized supreme version of the Quran and ordered to burn all other copies. (Sahih Bukhari 6:61:510) According to Islam not all of the copies were burned because some refused to burn the copies and others just went unnoticed. That’s why there are still different versions of the Quran alive today, which contradicts with the common Islamic belief that Allah’s word can’t be changed. I mean Allah’s word can stay unchanged if Allah’s word is different in every text to begin with, right? Some who know about this suggest that the differences were very little and insignificant. But that’s not true. The different ways of reading the Quran can change the meaning minimally or very much. Most Muslims only trust in the current version of the Quran because that one was cleared by Uthman to be supreme, a human, a regular Muslim and political ruler 20 years after Muhammad’s death. That’s why Islamic teachers prefer not to teach their Muslim students transparently and clearly about this.
This was basically the history of the Quran summarized in its vastly accepted form by the consensus of Islamic scholars. As for why the Quran is not in chronological order, Muslims don’t have a clear answer on that but most of them agree that Muhammad was the person who told his followers to rearrange the chapters of the Quran. As you know by now, Muhammad would just speak and his followers would make notes according to the general belief, Muhammad would speak the verses and then tell his scribes that what he just said goes in this or that chapter. Some chapters and verses were also put together by Uthman and others independently. Most importantly the chapter of repentance which is the ninth chapter of the Quran is not only the most dangerous and aggressive one, it is also one that has no clear beginning and was just placed where it is by Muhammad’s surviving companions. According to a hadith, Uthman didn’t know what to do with the verse because Muhammad used to give them further instructions about where to place verses but Muhammad died before he could give them any instructions about this one. So the Muslims didn’t put a beginning line to this chapter and placed it somewhere where it would be similar to surrounding verses. (Al-Mustadrak 2:330) Doesn’t sound like an almighty God’s plan at all, right? This is the Islamic scholarly consensus. I’m not making this up. Muhammed died in the middle of the process and that’s supposed to be Allah’s plan. That’s it.
To make it short, all that is how the Quran came into existence. Today it has 114 chapters and 6236 verses, verses that were allegedly spoken by Almighty God through his angel to a merchant in Arabia, who then revealed all these verses to his scribes in the Arabian desert in the 7th century. But the question was: Who wrote the Quran, right? If you follow Islam blindly, the answer is: Allah wrote it. If you don’t follow the Quran, you should know the fact that the Quran was written by multiple people over quite a long period, which is a weird thing for a book that is supposed to be Almighty Allah’s direct word. Especially if we want to follow the common Muslim belief that the Quran is uncreated, meaning it was not simply produced by Allah in Muhammad’s time, it existed long before humans.
Although Muslims believe that the Quran is Allah’s word, it looks very much like it was actually Muhammad’s word. But after going through such a long process, did it really protect what Muhammad said? Was it really a divine mission, a divine message? It’s very questionable. Especially if you look at Quran verses like this that make little sense if the Quran was with Allah forever, even before humans existed.
“O you who have believed, do not enter the houses of the Prophet except when you are permitted for a meal without awaiting its readiness. But when you are invited, then enter and when you have eaten, disperse without seeking to remain for conversation. Indeed that behavior was troubling the Prophet and he’s shy of dismissing you, but Allah is not shy of the truth. And when you asked his wives for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not lawful for you to harm the Messenger of Allah or to marry his wife’s after him, ever. Indeed, that would be in the sight of Allah an enormity.” (Surah 33:53)
Seriously, what was Allah planning with this Quran for us before Muhammad even existed. Why did Allah even say these words? What am I gonna say? What am I supposed to do with this? Is this really Allah’s uncreated direct word for all eternity for all humankind? I will leave that to you.