“During the first centuries of Islam, there were several versions of the Qur’an”
Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi is the director of Islamology studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE, Paris). Co-director, 2019, of The Qur’an of historians (Cerf, 4,372 pages, 89 euros), a monumental work that brings together thirty eminent scholars of Islam, has just been published as a co-publisher History of the Qur’an (Cerf, 1092 pages, 34 euros), which synthesizes, completes and updates part of the texts of the first.
This last book is particularly interested in the historical, political, religious and cultural context that saw the birth of the Qur’an, situated at the crossroads of many traditions and religions of late antiquity, beginning with Judaism and Eastern Christianity. In an interview on Mondesummarizes the latest developments in the study of the enigmatic holy book of the Muslims.
What do we know about the date of writing of the Qur’an?
For Muslims, the Koran is God’s Word revealed to Muhammad [Mahomet, 571-632]. It was conveyed to the Prophet by the angel Jibril, who appeared to him on numerous occasions over a period of twenty years. While receiving this revelation, Muhammad dictates it to the scribes. A few years after his death, when Othman became caliph (644-656), the multiple fragments of the revelation were collected in one book. This is what the Koran is according to Muslim tradition.
Nevertheless, the historian must immediately insist on one thing: according to the Muslim sources themselves, during the first four centuries of Islam there were several versions of the Qur’an. It is only in IVe Hijri century [début du calendrier islamique]that is, on Xe century of the Christian era, that the “official” Koran, the one that would have been copied under Osman, stands out as the one and only version of the text.
Until then, Muslims were divided into several hostile factions, and the conflicts were mainly about the contents of the holy book. Since the Ottoman Koran imposed itself among all Muslims, the various versions have disappeared. The Orthodox narrative has erased them.
How did this Koran of Othman impose itself as the only version of the holy text?
All the way to Xe century, many groups – and above all the Shiites – questioned Othman’s Koran. However, on this date, the latter manage to seize power in the Muslim empire. The new Shia leaders quickly realize how attached the Sunnis, who are the majority, are to this version of the book. In order to prevent the Sunni masses from revolting against them, they therefore erase their most explicitly Shia characteristics.
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