Why did Uthman need to burn the many original manuscripts of the Quran?
Because the many different manuscripts contained many discrepancies.
These different Qur’ans were a subject of study for early Islamic scholars. The Arabic librarian, Ibn Abi Ya’qub al-Nadim, made a famous catalogue of all the books in Arabic in the year 375 A.H./987 A.D that dealt with the topic of discrepancies in the different versions of the Quran existing then. He records seven books that dealt with this subject.
Books Composed about Discrepancies of the [Qur’anic] Manuscripts
- “The Discrepancies between the Manuscripts of the People of al-Madinah, al-Kufah, and al-Basrah” according to al-Kisa’i.
- Book of Khalaf, “Discrepancies of the Manuscripts”.
- “Discrepancies of the People of al-Kufah, al-Basrah, and Syria concerning the Manuscripts”, by al-Farra.
- “Discrepancies between the Manuscripts” by Abu Da’ud al-Sijistani.
- Book of al-Mada’ini about the discrepancies between the manuscripts and the compiling of the Qur’an.
- “Discrepancies between the Manuscripts of Syria, al-Hijaz, and al-Iraq”, by Ibn `Amir al-Yahsubi.
- Book of Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Rahman al-Isbahani about discrepancies of the manuscripts.
(Al-Nadim, The Fihrist of al-Nadim – A Tenth Century survey of Muslim Culture, p. 79)
These books detail hundreds of discrepancies; for example: different numbers of surahs, surahs were arranged differently, different words for the same verse, etc.
Here are some specific references:
“Concerning the arrangement of the Qur’an in the manuscript of Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud, Al-Fadl ibn Shadhan said, “I found in a manuscript of `Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud the surahs of the Qur’an in accordance with the following (different) sequence … These are one hundred and ten surahs.” (Al-Nadim, p. 53)
This is saying that ibn Mas’ud’s Quran had 110 surahs!
Who is Ibn Mas’ud? He was one of the teachers that Muhammad had commanded Muslims to learn the Quran from.
Here is another one.
One of our reliable friends has informed us, saying that the composition of the surahs according to the reading of Ubayy ibn Ka’b is in a village called Qariyat al-Ansar, two parasangs from al-Basrah, where in his home Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik al-Ansari showed us a Qur’anic manuscript, saying, “This is the copy of Ubayy which we have, handed down from our fathers.” I looked into it and ascertained the headings of the surahs, the endings of the revelations, and the numbers of verses. … one hundred and sixteen surahs. (Al-Nadim, pp. 58-61)”
This is saying that Ubayy ibn Ka’b’s Quran had 116 surahs!
Who is Ubayy ibn Ka’b? the hadiths tell us he was the best reciter of the Quran.
There were Qurans with 110 surahs. And there were Qurans with 116 surahs. And there were Qurans with 114 surahs? What are these additional surahs? Which ones should be in the Quran and which one should not be in the Quran?
Who should make the decision?
Muhammad? He was dead. Allah had been silent since Muhammad died.
Although Muhammad left behind the great teachers of the Quran like Ibn Mas’ud and Ubayy ibn Ka’b, the caliph, Uthman, chose to reject the Qurans of these teachers by burning them. Muhammad was no longer around to approve or disapprove of what he did.
No one knows if the genuine Quran was burnt by Uthman.
“Narrated Anas bin Malik: Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people (Muslims) of Syria and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Armenia and Azarbaijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Syria and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to ‘Uthman, “O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before.” So ‘Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, “Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you.” Hafsa sent it to ‘Uthman. ‘Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, ‘Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Said bin Al-As and ‘AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to REWRITE the manuscripts in perfect copies. ‘Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, “In case you DISAGREE (on discrepancies) with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue.” They did so, and when they had written many copies, ‘Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. ‘Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.” (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 510)