We are in the second year of the Hijrah. Madinah the city of the Prophet
is buzzing with activity as the Muslims prepare for the long march southwards
The noble Prophet 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
A youth, not yet thirteen, walked up to the ranks. He was confident and
alert. He held a sword which was as long or possibly slightly longer than
his own height. He went up to the Prophet, may God bless him and grant
him peace, and said: "I dedicate myself to you, Messenger of God. Permit
me to be with you and to fight the enemies of God under your banner."
The noble Prophet 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, Zayd 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 on his first campaign. Behind him was his mother, an-Nawar
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
at this most critical time.
One year later, as preparations were underway for the second encounter
with the Quraysh 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. 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 to join the Muslim forces. Others like Abdullah the son of
Umar and Zayd ibn Thabit were still considered by the Prophet 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 Zayd was about
sixteen years old that he was at last allowed to bear arms in defence
of the Muslim community.
Although Zayd 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, peace be on him. He considered
the field of knowledge and in particular of memorizing the Quran. He mentioned
the idea 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 Zayd 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, peace be on him, listened to Zayd 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 was pleased. Indeed he found that Zayd's ability exceeded the
commendation he had been given by his relatives. The Prophet then set
him a task which required intelligence, skill and persistence.
"Zayd, learn the writing of the Jews for me," instructed the Prophet.
"At your command, Messenger of Allah," replied Zayd who set about learning
Hebrew with enthusiasm. He became quite proficient in the language and
wrote it for the Prophet when he wanted to communicate with the Jews.
Zayd also read and translated from Hebrew when the Jews wrote to the Prophet.
The Prophet instructed him to learn Syriac also and this he did. Zayd
thus came to perform the important function of an interpreter for the
Prophet in his dealings with non-Arabic speaking peoples.
Zayd's enthusiasm and skill were obvious. When the Prophet felt confident
of his faithfulness in the discharge of duties and the care, precision
and understanding with which he carried out tasks, he entrusted Zayd with
the weighty responsibility of recording the Divine revelation.
When any part of the Quran was revealed to the Prophet, he often sent
for Zayd and instructed him to bring the writing materials, "the parchment,
the ink-pot and the scapula", and write the revelation.
Zayd was not the only one who acted as a scribe for the Prophet. One
source has listed forty-eight persons who used to write for him. Zayd
was very prominent among them. He did not only write but during the Prophet's
time he collected portions of the Quran that were written down by others
and arranged these under the supervision of the Prophet. He is reported
to have said:
"We used to compile the Quran from small manuscripts in the presence
of the Prophet." In this way, Zayd experienced the Quran directly from
the Prophet himself. It could be said that he grew up with the verses
of the Quran, understanding well the circumstances surrounding each revelation.
He thus became well-versed in the secrets of the Shariah 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, may Allah bless him and grant him peace,
the task fell on this fortunate young man who specialized in the Quran
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 Quran to memory perished.
Umar convinced the Khalifah Abu Bakr that unless the Quran was collected
in one manuscript, a large part of it was in danger of being lost. Abu
Bakr summoned Zayd 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 Quran and collect it in one manuscript."
Zayd 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 Quran."
Zayd finally accepted the task and, according to him, "started locating
the Quranic 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 Zayd was careful that not a single error,
however slight or unintentional, should creep into the work. When Zayd
had completed his task, he left the prepared suhuf or sheets with Abu
Bakr. Before he died, Abu Bakr 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 Quran.
During the time of Uthman, by which time Islam had spread far and wide,
differences in reading the Quran 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 Quran".
Uthman obtained the manuscript of the Quran from Hafsah and again summoned
the leading authority, Zayd ibn Thabit, and some other competent companions
to make accurate copies of it. Zayd 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 Bakr.
Zayd and his assistants wrote many copies. One of these Uthman sent to
every Muslim province with the order that all other Quranic 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 Quran. Uthman kept a copy for himself and returned
the original manuscript to Hafsah.
Zayd ibn Thabit thus became one of the foremost authorities on the Quran.
Umar ibn al-Khattab once addressed the Muslims and said: "O people, whoever
wants to ask about the Quran, let him go to Zayd 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 "Tabiun",
came from far and wide to benefit from his knowledge. When Zayd died,
Abu Hurayrah said: "Today, the scholar of this ummah has died."
When a Muslim holds the Quran 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,
Zayd 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." (The Quran, Surah al-Hijr, 15:9)