The Yamama battle and the preservation of the Qur’an
This article is about the Yamama battle and the preservation of the Qur’an. The early Muslims lost about 450 men who had memorized parts of the Qur’an. In fact, that battle pressed Omar to request a Qur’an collection orders from Abu Bakr, the first Muslim Khalif. Abu Bakr took over the leadership of the Muslims after the death of Muhammad.
Present day Muslims have grand claims about preserving the Qur’an as it was revealed to Muhammad, letter by letter, and word by word. There are many scholars of Islam who showed that such a claim does not stand critical scrutiny. The current writer had a humble attempt in a three-part article that dealt with the collection of the Qur’an processes from the time of Muhammad until our present day Qur’an.
In the current article, and for the most part, I confine myself to the circumstances surrounding the Yamama battle and its influence on the collection of the Qur’an process.
Prelude to Muhammad’s death and its influence on multiplicity of Arab tribes
The age of Muhammad was the age of “Might is Right”. Muhammad’s peacefull prophecy and stay in Mecca did not give him any grand results. He insulted other religions and Meccans ended up paying him back with the same currency he dealt them with. He had to leave. He sent “discovery” campaigns to Abyssinia (Ethiopia), and also he tried Ta’ef. The people of Ta’ef did not like what they saw from him and kicked him out. Finally, he moves to Medina. He wasted no time there in starting his gangsters activities by attacking commercial caravans. First, he met failure, then his first success came during a sacred month through the Nakhla raid. There is a long list of attacks by the early Muslims when Muhammad started his stay in Medina. Muhammad wasted no time in Medina, and started his hostilities against other groups right away. The date estimates is that he moved to Medina in September of 622. During the same month or in October, Muhammad started his hostilities against the Jewish inhabitants of Medina. As for the gang activities of attacking commercial caravan in greed of loots, Muhammad started such activities during March of 623 AD (razzia) against a Meccan commercial caravan. Muhammad continued such activities without much success. However, in January of 624 AD, Muhammad found success in the Nakhla raid.
Moving forward, Muhammad eliminates all opposition through attacks, genocides, murders, assassinations, rapes,..etc. And, off course, all of his activities were rubber-stamped by Allah. Reason being Muhammad was his last prophet!! Allah was desperate and could not find a better man than Muhammad to be his final seal of prophets. Muslims complain that I show Muhammad in bad light when I write about him. Well, all a Muslim can do is read the Qur’an, and investigate some of the revelations and their reasons. That, in itself, should suffice to convince any decent human being to leave Islam.
Moving toward the end of Muhammad’s life, we find that he took over Mecca and forced all Arab tribes to send to Mecca part of their economic prosperity. In exchange for that, Muhammad stayed away from attacking them!! Muslims like to call such money sent to Mecca “Zakat”. I call it “protection money”. You can call it what you want, but the fact is Muhammad forced other tribes to send from their wealth, to the Meccans. Economics 101, with fringe benefits to Quraysh and the Meccans, are at the heart of Islamic creed. Even today, Muhammad guaranteed an annual economic “fringe benefits” to Mecca and the surrounding areas through the Islamic creed of “Hajj”.
There is no spirituality in the Islam of Muhammad. His form of Islam was “Loot, Loot, Loot” and “Pay me Zakat, or Else”.
Muhammad’s death (632 AD)
Other than the area of Mecca and its surroundings, one can imagine how happy the Arab tribes were to hear that the man who forced them at the pain of the sword to pay annual amounts of money and goods to Mecca is finally dead. The tribes became happy for a good reason: The tyrant is dead.
This event in the history of Islam should convince any reader that the “elegance” or “greatness” of the Qur’an are no more than lies. Arabs did not think the Qur’an’s language was of superior quality. If they did, they would hesitate in leaving Islam. This was not the case at all. Arab tribes became very happy and left Islam. They just did not want to pay a protection tax levied against them from Mecca. So, they declared they are Muslims no more.
Inside the Muslim camp, there were power struggles as to who should lead. But a quick decision is made through a select group of men. Abu Bakr becomes the Khalif. As the news of Arab tribes leaving Islam comes to him, he is not willing to give up the annual Zakat money without a fight. He had the man power and the expertise of Khalid Bin Alwaleed; a master battle leader, to get the job done. The major tribes that left Islam did not unite to make a solid front against the Muslims. For this, Abu Bakr plans his battles in an organized manner and sends his military campaigns to force Islam back. Those battles against apostacised tribes are known in the history of Islam as the Ridda wars (Ridda, in Arabic, means apostasy). During that time, there were many individuals in the Arabian peninsula who claimed to be prophets, just like Muhammad. Had any of them won all of their battles against the Muslims, the form of the religious mix in the Arabian peninsula would look much different today. Some of the names of such individuals who claimed prophecy are Sajjah, Tulaihah, and Musaylima. It is the latter one who seems to have had the largest following. The Muslim forces faced Musaylimah and his followers at the place of Yamama. They engaged him in two battles. The Muslims took heavy casualties. They had to wait until Khalid Bin al-Waleed and his troops joined their ranks. The Muslims forces, under Khalid’s leadership engaged Musaylimah and his troops. The result was a win for the Muslim camp. Musaylimah was killed. However, the Muslim forces took heavy casualties that included about 450 men who were trusted reliable memorizers of the Qur’an.
The sum of the Ridda wars is that Abu Bakr restored the tribes into Islam by the sword. Anyone who denies that Islam’s early history was forcing the religion at the pain of the sword, denies history’s events.
At the end of the day, a huge majority of the memorizers (Hafids) of the Qur’an were killed at Yamama. Abu Bakr did not seem worried about the fate of the Qur’an. His logic was that Muhammad did not worry about collecting the Qur’an as one unit book. So, why worry about it if Muhammad himself did not. Omar, who was destined to become the second Khalif, requested that Abu Bakr command a collection of the Suras and verses of the Qur’an. At first, Abu Bakr resisted such a project. But, upon the insistence of Omar, Abu Bakr appointed a committee for the task of collecting the Qur’an.
Bukhari Hadith narrates the story of Qur’an collection commission between Abu Bakr and Omar:
Narrated Zaid bin Thabit Al-Ansari: who was one of those who used to write the Divine Revelation: Abu Bakr sent for me after the (heavy) casualties among the warriors (of the battle) of yamama (where a great number of Qurra’ were killed). ‘Umar was present with Abu Bakr who said, ‘Umar has come to me and said, The people have suffered heavy casualties on the day of (the battle of) yamama, and I am afraid that there will be more casualties among the Qurra’ (those who know the Qur’an by heart) at other battle-fields, whereby a large part of the Qur’an may be lost, unless you collect it. And I am of the opinion that you should collect the Qur’an.” Abu Bakr added, “I said to ‘Umar, ‘How can I do something which Allah’s Apostle has not done?’ ‘Umar said (to me), ‘By Allah, it is (really) a good thing.’ So ‘Umar kept on pressing, trying to persuade me to accept his proposal, till Allah opened my bosom for it and I had the same opinion as ‘Umar.” (Zaid bin Thabit added:) Umar was sitting with him (Abu Bakr) and was not speaking. me). “You are a wise young man and we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of forgetfulness): and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah’s Apostle. Therefore, look for the Qur’an and collect it (in one manuscript). ” 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. I said to both of them, “How dare you do a thing which the Prophet has not done?” Abu Bakr said, “By Allah, it is (really) a good thing. So I kept on arguing with him about it till Allah opened my bosom for that which He had opened the bosoms of Abu Bakr and Umar. So I started locating Quranic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leaf-stalks of date palms and from the memories of men (who knew it by heart). I found with Khuzaima two Verses of Surat-at-Tauba which I had not found with anybody else, (and they were):– “Verily there has come to you an Apostle (Muhammad) from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty He (Muhammad) is ardently anxious over you (to be rightly guided)” (9.128) The manuscript on which the Quran was collected, remained with Abu Bakr till Allah took him unto Him, and then with ‘Umar till Allah took him unto Him, and finally it remained with Hafsa, Umar’s daughter. (Book #60, Hadith #201)
Please note that this project relied heavily on the judgement of one man; Zaid bin Thabit. Even with being a scribe, it is unlikely that Zaid knew all of the Qur’an as revealed to Muhammad. After all he was only one person among many scribes whose number was about forty two persons. With such a large number, it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, for any of them, to know all of the “supposedly” divine revelations to Muhammad. So, in a sense, Zaid was given an impossible task. For instance, let us say he was confronted with similar Qur’anic verses the rhymed and conveyed the same meaning, How was Zaid to choose? What criterion does he need to establish.
In any case, Zaid tries his best and makes a copy of the Qur’an of what was available to him.
To add insult to injury, Zaid was only one among many “Qur’anic” experts of the time. A short list will have to include people like Ali bin Abi Talib, Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, Mu’adh bin Jabal, and Ubai ibn ka’b.
A wiser decision would have been to appoint all of them to collect a one “more” complete and reliable Qur’an. This did not happen, making Zaid’s decisions final on the newly collected Qur’an. The problem is that Zaid was only one of at least forty two scribes of Muhammad. Hence, there exists great discrepancy of what Zaid knew about the revelations, and the elite group knowledge of the Qur’an. By elite group I mean the group of early Muslims who knew a lot of the Qur’an and memorized it, etc. I gave the reader an example of other four men who were as competent as Zaid in their knowledge of the Qur’an, if not better than him in this endeavor.
In any case, history tells us that Zaid did as was ordered and produced his collected version of the Qur’an. His collected work did not imply any authoritative pressure on Muslims. There were other collected versions of the Qur’an circling around. None was claimed to have the official seal of Muslim leaders of the time. Zaid’s effort was just another attempt at collecting the Qur’an. His collection lacked official adoption status. His collection remained with Umar, who passed it to his daughter, Hafsa; the prophet’s widow.
Adopting an official version of the Qur’an had to wait till the time Khalif Uthman took office after Umar. Uthman told Zaid to make a “revised” version of the Qur’an. It was not the same as the one Hafsa had, which is the one Zaid collected earlier as per Abu Bakr’s request. This second time, Uthman canonized Zaid’s second attempt. The new Qur’an version is known as the Medina codex. At the time, there were six other versions of the Qur’an circling around. Those versions were collected by Muhammad’s faithful and intimate companions (Sahaba). Uthman “officialized” the Medina codex and ordered the other “Qur’ans” to be destroyed.
Reflections on the Yamama battle and the collection of the Qur’an
There are some important observations that we need to note regarding the Qur’an collection and its relation to the Yamama battle:
- Muhammad died without having his Qur’an collected in one book. So, in a sense, he “let the dogs out.”. I mean that any version of a collected Qur’an in the future will suffice. Abu Bakr had the collection of the Qur’an as a low priority issue. It wasn’t but for Omar’s insistence that the Qur’an got collected at the time.
- In my judgment, the battle of Yamama and the death of 450 Qurra’ (Hafiths or Memorisers) did not create any additional problems to the collection of the Qur’an. In fact, it probably minimized some. The author of the book, Muhammad, did not worry about collecting Allah’s revelations. His closest companion, Abu Bakr, did not place any urgent priority on the issue. In such an environment, anything goes. If there are multiplicity of Qur’ans, then that will be a continuous problem as Muhammad is not around anymore to solve the issue.
- The death of about 450 Qur’an memorizers probably simplified more complications in the existing Qur’ans. You see, had they not perished, we would have had many more Suras and Qur’an verses. The problem then will be which verses belonged to Muhammad’s original revelations, and which did not. The simple fact is that human memory is not always trustworthy. Who is to say that we have to trust the memory of those Qur’an memorizers one hundred percent of the time. Human memory is fallible. We experience that in our everyday lives. How many times did I think I put the keys in my pocket, only to discover that I had left them in the car! Long term memory issues are ever more troublesome.
- Even with the death of most memorizers, the Qur’an still faced multiplicity of difficulties that cannot be overcome. There is no chance whatsoever that the Qur’an we have today is the one Muhammad concocted. This is a grand statement not supported by this article. The reader is advised to read my study on the problems that faced the Qur’an collection. Here is a link: