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Al-Mushaf al-'Uthmani

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Al-Muṣhaf al-'Uthmāni (Arabic: المصحف العثماني) (literally: the Ottoman Manuscript) is a manuscript of the Qur'an, which was compiled at the command of Uthman b. Affan. It was called al-Mushaf al-Uthmani, or sometimes Mushaf al-Imam. The reason for the compilation of the mushaf was the existence of a variety of Quranic manuscripts among Muslims and disputes over them. After the compilation of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani, other mushafs or manuscripts were destroyed at the command of Uthman. On the majority view, compilers of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani were four people: Zayd b. Thabit, Abd Allah b. Zubayr, Sa'id b. 'As, and Abd al-Rahman b. Harith.

A Photo of a manuscript of the Qur'an in Egypt which is alleged to be Ottoman Manuscript

Imams of the Shia and their companions did not oppose the unification of Quranic manuscripts by Uthman, although they criticized the way the mushaf was compiled as well as some of its words. According to scholars of Quranic sciences, al-Mushaf al-Uthmani involves some spelling errors, although this does not amount to the distortion of the Qur'an, because Quranic words are preserved.

There have allegedly been four manuscripts of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani. Each mushaf was sent to an important city in the Islamic world as a standard for the recitation of the Qur'an. None of these original Uthmani Mushafs is available today. However, many manuscripts were produced as their copies, and printed volumes of the Qur'an today are based on these manuscripts.

Formation of Mushafs

"Mushaf" is a word referring to the Qur'an. According to historical sources, such use of the word traces back to the period of Abu Bakr. According to Quranic scholars, the Prophet (s) himself never compiled the whole Qur'an within a single manuscript, although he had specified Quranic verses and names of Quranic suras. The compilation of the Qur'an with separate suras and the arrangement of its suras were carried out after the demise of the Prophet (s) by his companions. Every one of the companions began to compile their own Quranic manuscript after the Prophet's demise. Thus, many mushafs or manuscripts came to exist. Mushaf of 'Ali, Mushaf of 'Abd Allah b. Mas'ud, Mushaf of Ubayy b. Ka'b, Mushaf of Abu Musa Ash'ari, and Mushaf of Miqdad b. Aswad were the best-known mushafs compiled by the companions.

The Reason for the Compilation of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani

Since mushafs compiled by the companions were different in their arrangements of suras and spellings, they gave rise to disagreements among Muslims over the Qur'an. Each group of the companions considered their own mushaf to be the right one, and took other manuscripts to be inaccurate or fabricated. Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Hujjati, a scholar of Quranic sciences, has quoted al-Tabari as saying that such disagreements sometimes led to takfir.

To settle the disputes, Uthman b. Affan ordered four people to compile a single Quranic manuscript based on the available manuscripts at the time. He also ordered the destruction of all available manuscripts of the Qur'an in different Islamic areas at the time.

Time of Compilation

There is a disagreement over when al-Mushaf al-Uthmani was compiled. According to Ibn al-Hajar al-Asqalani, a Shafi'i muhaddith of eighth/fourteenth and ninth/fifteenth centuries, the compilation took place in 25/646, but according to ibn al-Athir, a historian of sixth/twelfth and seventh/thirteenth centuries, it took place in 30/651. Some scholars of Quranic sciences have cited certain evidence to show that the latter view is inaccurate. One piece of evidence is that Sa'id b. As, one of the four compilers of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani, was not present in Mecca from 30/651 to 34/655.

Thus, in their view, the compilation of the Qur'an began in 25/646 or in late 24/645 and early 25/646, and was finished in 30/655.


There are different accounts of who was in charge of the compilation of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani. On one account, only Zayd b. Thabit was in charge, but on another account, he and Sa'id b. As were involved in the work. On another account, the group consisted of the latter two in addition to Ubayy. Yet there are also accounts that take five people or twelve people from the Quraysh and Helpers to be in charge of the compilation.

Some people take the most reliable account to be the one provided by Anas b. Malik and Aslam, an emancipated slave of Umar b. Khattab, who cooperated with the compilation group. On this account, four people were in charge of the compilation: Zayd b. Thabit, Abd Allah b. Zubayr, Sa'id b. As, and Abd al-Rahman b. Harith. Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat, a scholar of Quranic sciences and the author of al-Tamhid fi 'ulum al-Qur'an, explains the account on which twelve people were involved as follows: the four people could not accomplish such a heavy task on their own; thus, they asked for the help of other people such as Abd Allah b. Abbas and Anas b. Malik as well.

Zayd b. Thabit was the head and supervisor of the group. He was from Helpers and was trusted by Uthman and was in charge of the Treasury (Bayt al-Mal). The other three people were all from the Quraysh and were Uthman's sons in law. Abd Allah b. Mas'ud, a prominent companion of the Prophet (s), objected to the choice of people. He objected to the headship of Zayd b. Thabit by saying: "the compilation of the Qur'an is assigned to someone who was not still born when I converted to Islam."

Method of Compilation

According to historical accounts, al-Mushaf al-Uthmani was compiled in accordance to a manuscript that was transcribed in the period of Abu Bakr. It was also based on manuscripts of Quranic suras transcribed in the period of the Prophet (s) as well as Ubayy's mushaf. Uthman told the group to apply the Quraysh dialect if there is a disagreement over a word, since the Qur'an was revealed with the dialect of the Quraysh.

According to Mahmud Ramyar, the author of Tarikh Qur'an (the history of the Qur'an), the compilation of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani was accomplished with the highest degree of precision. He cites Malik b. Abi Amir as saying that whenever the compilers disagreed over a Quranic verse, they left a blank in the manuscript until they could find someone who had heard the verse from the Prophet (s) himself, so that they could be assured of the accurate version of the verse. Régis Blachère, a French Orientalist who translated the Qur'an into French, says that the compilers of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani were undoubtedly highly responsible and wrote the manuscript with great precision.


However, Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat raised objections to the method of the compilation of the mushaf. He says that the work involves obvious errors, which led to many misspellings. Moreover, the original manuscripts of the mushaf were not compared to one another, and thus, they were different. He quotes Ibn Abi Dawud as saying that people of Levant considered their own manuscript of the Uthmani Mushaf to be more accurate than that of Kufa, since the latter was sent to Kufa without comparison and correction. He also quotes Ibn Abi Dawud as saying that when Uthman saw al-Mushaf al-Uthmani, he identified misspellings in it and said that if the reciter was from the Hudhayl tribe and the scriber from the Thaqif tribe, then such errors would not happen.


According to Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat, just like other manuscripts of the Qur'an compiled before al-Mushaf al-Uthmani, the mushaf has arranged Quranic suras from longest to shortest. However, there were slight differences between them. For example, in mushafs compiled by the companions, Qur'an 10 was considered as a long sura, and thus it was positioned as the seventh or eighth sura, but in al-Mushaf al-Uthmani, Qur'an 8 and Qur'an 9 replaced Qur'an 10, because Uthman took them to be one sura, and thus, longer than Qur'an 10. It is said that Ibn Abbas objected to Uthman for this.

Another feature of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani was that it did not involve diacritic dots on its letters, because of the primitiveness of the Arabic writing at the time. For example, letters such as, "تـ" ,"بـ" ,"يـ" and "ثـ", as well as "ج", "ح" and "خ", were all written without diacritic dots and thus they looked the same. Also, words were written without other diacritic sings that indicated their grammatical functions; for example, یعلمه and نعلمه were written similarly (where one is third-person singular and the other is first-person plural form of the verb). Thus, to learn the Qur'an in that period one needed to hear it from Quranic reciters. According to al-Tamhid, lack of diacritic signs was the most significant factor in the formation of different recitations of the Qur'an.

Al-Mushaf al-Uthmani contained many misspellings. According to Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat, it contained over seventy thousand misspellings, although this did not damage the integrity of the Qur'an, because the Qur'an is primarily what is pronounced, rather than what is written, and its pronounced form have always remained intact until the present time.

The Number of Manuscripts of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani

According to Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, a scholar of Quranic sciences in ninth/fifteenth and tenth/sixteenth centuries, there are different views of the number of manuscripts produced by the group in charge of the compilation of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani. Many scholars believe that four manuscripts of the mushaf were produced and sent to Medina, Kufa, Basra, and Levant. According to al-Suyuti, the majority view is that there were five manuscripts. On other views, there were six, seven, eight, or nine manuscripts of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani.

Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat has combined reports by Ibn Abi Dawud and al-Ya'qubi, and concluded that there were nine manuscripts of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani, since Ibn Abi Dawud talks about seven manuscripts that were sent to Mecca, Kufa, Basra, Levant, Bahrain, Yemen, and Medina, and al-Ya'qubi talks about two other manuscripts that were sent to Egypt and Algeria.

Mushaf al-Imam

In some sources of Quranic sciences, the manuscript of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani that was kept in Medina is known as "Mushaf al-Imam". However, according to Ibn al-Jazari, a Shafi'i muhaddith and jurist in eighth/fourteenth and ninth/fifteenth centuries, Mushaf al-Imam was different from the public mushaf in Medina. In fact, it was another manuscript that was personally kept by Uthman himself. In his Fada'il al-Qur'an, Ibn Kathir, a Quranic exegete in the eighth/fourteenth century, refers to all manuscripts of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani as Mushaf al-Imam. According to al-Tamhid, Mushaf al-Imam was the reference for manuscripts in other cities, and if mushafs were different from one another, reference was made to Mushaf al-Imam to find the accurate version.

Positions of the Sahaba and Tabi'un

The companions agreed with Uthman that the mushaf had to be unified. With regard to the method of the compilation of the mushaf, the only opponent was Abd Allah b. Mas'ud who had an intense argument with Uthman. He thought of people in charge of the compilation to be inexperienced, and did not give his own mushaf to Uthman.

There are also reports of different views of certain companions over some words within al-Mushaf al-Uthmani. For example, "hadhan" (these two) in "in hadhan la-sahiran" (truly these two are magicians) must, in accordance with regular rules of the Arabic grammar, be "hadhayn". Thus, A'isha and Sa'id b. Jubayr pronounced it in the latter way, because they thought the way it was written in the mushaf was wrong.

According to al-Tabrisi in his Majma' al-bayan, some of the Seven Reciters of the Qur'an have also recited it as "hadhayn." There is a report that Uthman himself also considered it as wrong, but did not change it because it does not amount to the permission of something impermissible or the forbiddance of something unforbidden.

In Jami' al-bayan, Imam Ali (a) is quoted as saying that the phrase, "talh mandud", (a banana tree with clusters of fruits) should be pronounced as "tal' mandud" (dense clusters of palms), but he did not permit people to change it.

The Views of Imams of the Shia

According to Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat, Imams of the Shia did not object to al-Mushaf al-Uthmani. Thus, Shiites take the Qur'an which is available today as accurate and complete. Al-Suyuti cites a hadith according to which Uthman consulted with Imam Ali (a) over the compilation of the mushaf, and he agreed to it. According to a hadith cited in Wasa'il al-shi'a, Imam al-Sadiq (a) prohibited a person from reciting the Qur'an with non-standard recitations.

The Fate of the Original Manuscripts of the Mushaf

According to historical sources, original manuscripts of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani were deemed sacred by Muslims and were particularly protected. However, despite the fact that many other manuscripts were transcribed based on them, there no precise information as to the fate of those original manuscripts. Because of special respect that a city or a mosque received because of having an original manuscript of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani, there was feverish rivalry over obtaining a manuscript. Thus, there have always been manuscripts that are claimed to be an Uthmani Mushaf, although such claims are rejected by scholars who believe that there is no trace of such mushafs today.

For example, there is a manuscript of the Qur'an, known as the Mushaf of Samarkand, in Tashkent which was claimed to be the same mushaf on which Uthman was murdered and his blood was shed. However, according to Mahmud Ramyar, although the manuscript is very old and lacks diacritic signs, it does not date back to the period of Uthman. Moreover, there is a manuscript of the Qur'an in a museum in Istanbul which is attributed to Uthman, but since it has diacritic signs, the claim must not be true.

Print of the Qur'an on the Basis of al-Mushaf al-Uthmani

Mushafs sent by Uthman to different parts of the Islamic world at the time attracted the attentions of Muslims. Shortly after the compilation of Uthmani Mushafs, many manuscripts were written based on them. According to Mahmud Ramyar, since the second century, there were people who devoted their life to the transcription of the Qur'an. For example, Abu Amr al-Shibani wrote over eighty manuscripts and put them in the Mosque of Kufa. Quranic manuscripts were soon proliferated. For example, in 403/1013-14, al-Hakim Billah, the Fatimid Caliph in Egypt sent 1298 manuscripts of the Qur'an to 'Atiq Jami' Mosque and 814 manuscripts to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun.

Quranic volumes available today are printed on the basis of manuscripts transcribed from Uthmani Mushafs. The Qur'an was first printed in 950/1543 in Italy, but it was destroyed at the command of authorities of the Church. It was then printed in 1104/1692 and later again in 1108/1696 in Europe. The first print of the Qur'an by Muslims was done in 1200/1785 by Mawla Uthman in Saint Petersburg in Russia.

Iran was the first Muslim country to print the Qur'an. In 1243 and 12248, two gorgeous lithographical prints of the Qur'an were published in Iran. Later, other Islamic countries, such as Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq, also printed the Qur'an.