Seekers of knowledge came from far and wide to benefit from him. When Zayd died, Abu Hurayrah said: “Today, the scholar of this ummah has died.” Mehreen Ganny takes us back in time.
As the Muslims prepared for Badr, a youth, not yet thirteen, walked up to the Prophet (saw), and said: “I dedicate myself to you, Messenger of Allah (saw). Permit me to be with you and to fight the enemies of Allah under your banner.” The noble Prophet (saw) commended him for his courage but refused to enlist him because he was still too young.
The youth, Zayd ibn Thabit, walked away dejected. Then his alert mind turned to the field of knowledge and in particular of memorizing the Quran. His mother, an-Nawar bint Malik, spoke to some men of the Ansar about the youth’s desire and they in turn broached the matter with the Prophet (saw).
The Prophet (saw) listened to Zayd reciting some surahs that 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 (saw) was pleased. The Prophet (saw) then set him a task that required intelligence, skill and persistence.
“Zayd, learn the writing of the Jews for me,” instructed the Prophet (saw). Zayd set about learning Hebrew. He became proficient in the language and wrote it for the Prophet (saw) when he wanted to communicate with the Jews. Then the Prophet (saw) instructed him to learn Syriac, and this he did. Zayd thus came to perform the important function of an interpreter for the Prophet (saw) in his dealings with non-Arabic speaking people.
When the Prophet (saw) felt confident of Zayd’s faithfulness in carrying out tasks, he entrusted him with the weighty responsibility of recording the Divine Revelation.
When any part of the Quran was revealed to the Prophet (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 the Prophet (saw). One source has listed forty-eight persons who used to write for him. Zayd was very prominent among them. He not only wrote, but during the Prophet’s (saw) time, he collected portions of the Quran that were written down by others and arranged these under the supervision of the Prophet (saw).
So, he became well versed in Shariah at an early age. After the wars of apostasy and the Battle of Yamamah 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 asked him to “… Look for (all parts of) the Quran and collect it in one manuscript.” (Bukhari)
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.” (Bukhari)
Zayd finally accepted the task. He was careful that not a single error was committed. When he had completed his task, he left the prepared suhuf (sheets) with Abu Bakr.
During the time of Uthman, by which time Islam had spread far and wide, differences in reading the Quran became obvious. 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 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 in order to eliminate any variations.
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.”