Zayd ibn Thaabit (Radiyallahu ‘Anhu)


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 to Badr.

The Noble Prophet (SAW) made a final inspection of the first army to be mobilised 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 mission.

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 Rasoolullah (SAW) and said:

“I dedicate myself to you, Messenger of Allah. Permit me to be with you and to fight the enemies of Allah under your banner.”

The Noble Nabi (SAW) 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 honour of accompanying the Rasool of Allah (SAW) 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 Rasoolullah (SAW). They were seeking to be enlisted in any capacity in the Muslim ranks. Some of them, like Rafi ibn Khadij and Samurah ibn Jundub (RA), who were strong and well-built for their age and who demonstrated their ability to wrestle and handle weapons, were granted permission by Rasoolulllah (SAW) to join the Muslim forces. Others like Abdullah the son of Umar and Zayd ibn Thabit (RA) were still considered by the Rasoolulllah (SAW) 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 Trench (Khandaq) when Zayd was about sixteen years old that he was at last allowed to bear arms in defence of the Muslim community.

Although Zayd (RA) 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 Rasoolulllah (SAW). He considered the field of knowledge and in particular of memorising the Qur’an. He mentioned the idea to his mother. She was delighted and immediately made attempts to have his ambition realised. An-Nuwar spoke to some men of the Ansaar about the youth’s desire and they in turn broached the matter with Rasoolulllah (SAW), saying:

“O Messenger of Allah, our son Zayd ibn Thabit has memorised 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.”

Rasoolullah (SAW) listened to Zayd reciting some surahs he had memorised. His recitation was clear and beautiful and his stops and pauses indicated clearly that he understood well what he recited. Rasoolulllah (SAW) was pleased. Indeed he found that Zayd’s ability exceeded the commendation he had been given by his relatives. Nabi (SAW) then set him a task which required intelligence, skill and persistence.

“Zayd, learn the writing of the Jews for me,” instructed Rasoolulllah (SAW).

“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 Nabi Muhammad (SAW) when he wanted to communicate with the Jews. Zayd also read and translated from Hebrew when the Jews wrote to Rasoolulllah (SAW). He (SAW) instructed Zayd to learn Syriac also and this he did. Zayd thus came to perform the important function of an interpreter for the Rasoolulllah (SAW) in his dealings with non-Arabic speaking peoples.

Zayd’s enthusiasm and skill were obvious. When Rasoolulllah (SAW) 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 Qur’an was revealed to Rasoolulllah (SAW), 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 Nabi Muhammad (SAW). 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 Nabi’s (SAW) time he collected portions of the Qur’an that were written down by others and arranged these under the supervision of the Rasoolulllah (SAW). He is reported to have said:

“We used to compile the Qur’an from small manuscripts in the presence of Rasoolulllah (SAW).”

In this way, Zayd experienced the Qur’an directly from Nabi Muhammad (SAW) himself. It could be said that he grew up with the verses of the Qur’an, understanding well the circumstances surrounding each revelation. He thus became well-versed in the secrets of the Shari’ah and at an early age gained the well-deserved reputation as a leading scholar among the companions of the Rasoolulllah (SAW).

After the death of Rasoolulllah (SAW), may Allah bless him and grant him peace, the task fell on this fortunate young man who specialised in the Qur’an 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 against the false prophet Musailamah, in particular in which a large number of those who had committed the Qur’an to memory perished.

Sayyidinaa Umar convinced the Khalifah Abu Bakr (RA) that unless the Qur’an was collected in one manuscript, a large part of it was in danger of being lost. Sayyidinaa Abu Bakr summoned Zayd ibn Thabit (RA) 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 Qur’an 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 Qur’an.”

Zayd finally accepted the task and, according to him, “started locating the Qur’anic 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 Sayyidinaa Abu Bakr (RA). Before he died, Sayyidinaa Abu Bakr (RA) left the suhuf with Umar who in turn left it with his daughter Hafsah (RA). Hafsah, Umm Salamah and A’ishah (RA) were wives of Rasoolulllah (SAW), may Allah be pleased with them, who memorised the Qur’an.

During the time of the third Khalifah Uthmaan (RA), by which time Islam had spread far and wide, differences in reading the Qur’an became obvious. A group of companions of Rasoolulllah (SAW), headed by Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman (RA), who was then stationed in Iraq, came to Sayyidinaa Uthmaan (RA) and urged him to “save the Muslim ummah before they differ about the Qur’an”.

Sayyidinaa Uthmaan (RA) obtained the manuscript of the Qur’an from Ummul Mu’mineen, Hafsah (RA) and again summoned the leading authority, Zayd ibn Thabit (RA), 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 Sayyidinaa Abu Bakr (RA).

Zayd (RA) and his assistants wrote many copies. One of these Sayyidinaa Uthmaan (RA) sent to every Muslim province with the order that all other Qur’anic 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 Qur’an. Uthman kept a copy for himself and returned the original manuscript to Hafsah (RA).

Zayd ibn Thabit (RA) thus became one of the foremost authorities on the Qur’an. Sayyidinaa Umar ibn al-Khattaab (RA) once addressed the Muslims and said:

“O people, whoever wants to ask about the Qur’an, let him go to Zayd ibn Thabit.”

And so it was that seekers of knowledge from among the companions of Rasoolullah (SAW) and the generation who succeeded them, known as the “Taabi’oon”, came from far and wide to benefit from his knowledge. When Zayd (RA) passed away, Abu Hurayrah (RA) said:

“Today, the scholar of this ummah has died.”

When a Muslim holds the Qur’an 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 Rasoolullah (SAW), Zayd ibn Thabit (RA), 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 Qur’an, Surah al-Hijr, 15:9)

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