Pen, Ink and Revelation: An inspiring story of Zayd ibn Thabit رضي الله عنه
Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
The month of Muharram in the second year of Hijrah found the city of Madinah full of activity, as the young community of believers was preparing to defend itself. It so happened that the Quraysh of Makkah were convinced that they had to put an end to the Prophet, upon him be peace, and his mission. And so the Makkans dispatched a large and a well-equipped army toward Badr, just southwest of Madinah, to accomplish this task.
Meanwhile, the Prophet spoke before the believers prior to their march toward Badr. But while he was speaking, there was a disturbance in the file of those listening. A youth barely in his teens was elbowing his way through the ranks to reach the Messenger of Allah. Confident and alert, the boy held a sword as long as he was tall, perhaps longer.
“I dedicate myself to you, Messenger of Allah. Permit me to be with you and fight under your banner”, the youth said.
The Prophet smiled with admiration. Patting the boy on his shoulder, the Prophet commended him for his courage and commitment, but then proceeded to firmly decline his offer. He was too young.
This was probably the last thing the boy expected to hear. Dejected and sad, he stabbed his sword into the ground and slowly walked back from where he came. Even his mother felt for him, hoping that her son would indeed join in the noble defence of the Prophet and the Community. However, both the boy and his mother were oblivious to great place in history this youth would soon occupy.
Young Zayd bin Thabit was uniquely gifted in matters other than the sword. It would be language, words, and the pen that would claim him entirely, down to his marrow. For just around the corner of time, his gift – more refined and pure – would indeed be summoned to care for a task of immense importance – the proper recording of Allah’s final message to humanity, the Qur’an. A task the mightiest of swords could not handle.
Although Zayd bin Thabit was keen on going to battle – an eagerness he satisfied several years later in other engagements – he had a natural affinity for language. Coupled with this, he harboured a memory as impeccable as humanly possible. As young Zayd was growing into maturity, he gave much attention to learning, particularly the memorization of the Qur’an. This is significant. It’s a situation we all wish for our children. But Zayd, remember, did not grow in a vacuum. We often overlook the fact that the community in which he was raised fully encouraged growth in all areas and the opportunity for a person to develop his or her interests and talents. It was an opportunity for unpolished to be polished. It was a free, refreshing, sky’s the limit sort of situation but guided with limits supported by Revelation. It is an environment which seems all but absent in our current condition today. Yet the pressure on our youth to perform remains, creating a burdening imbalance.
Back to Zayd. His mother, Al Nawar bint Malik, recognised her son’s gift and spoke to some of the Ansar about it. A few of them in turn related it to the Prophet.
“O Messenger of Allah” one said. “Our son Zayd bin Thabit has memorised 17 suras of the Book of Allah and recites them as they were revealed to you. In addition, he is excellent with reading and writiing. It is in this field of service he desires to be close to you. Listen to him if you will”.
The Prophet readily agreed and listened to Zayd recite the Qur’an. It is said that his recitation was clear, beautiful, and accurate. His stops and pauses indicated not only an awareness of the Book’s words, but also revealed his comprehension of their meanings. Pleased with what he heard, the Prophet found Zayd’s ability excceeding the commendation he had been given by his relatives.
After a time, the Prophet called for Zayd. “Zayd, learn the language of the Jews for me”, the Prophet instructed.
“At your command, Messenger of Allah”, Zayd said eagerly.
There were no miracles. Zayd simply had to go out and learn a language from A to Z. And he did. He knew how. And he also knew who was giving the command. He was inspired not by fear, but the tenacity to provide service to the Prophet (Peace be upon him). (It only reflects Zayd’s properly ordered thinking, but also shows the type of person the Messenger of Allah was, upon him be peace. He inspired people to push themselves further than they would have imagined in their quest for excellence, in the quest of serving Allah.)
Zayd became proficient in Hebrew and served as translator when the Prophet communicated with that community.
“Go learn Syriac, Zayd”. When this instruction came from the Prophet, Zayd, again went out and learned it. No cassette tapes. No headphones. No classes. His language lab was Earth. His incentive was Heaven. The Prophet was able to communicate messages to those people.
There’s no point to beat the point to death. Zayd’s attitude of ‘at your service’ and his skills were not only impressive, but provide a glaring example of how only when attitude is mixed with skill is real service possible. When the Prophet felt confident of Zayd’s faithfulness in discharging duties and the care, precision, and understanding with which he did so, he entrusted Zayd with a weighty responsibility – recording the Qur’an. The Prophet throughout his prophetic life had dozens of scribes, all of whom were reliable. Howeverr, Zayd came to be the most prominent.
Whenever revelation would come down to the Prophet, he would often call upon Zayd to come with his ink pot and record the revelation. Zayd’s whole experience encompassed more than what we would assume as the normal duties of a scribe. Just consider the wealth of knowledge Zayd gained from being that close to the Quran and the Prophet at the same time. You can say that he was well schooled in the greatest classroom ever assembled. It is this experience and attachment of Zayd’s that earned him the respect the Prophet, upon him be peace, and his most notable Companions, Abu Bakr, Uthman, and many others. And it was this training that earned him the repute of being among the Community’s most learned in the matters of Fiqh, halals and harms. He related many ahadith as well. It was never an issue at all – en masse, en toto, and any other Latin-based abrreviation to bring home the point – never did it enter in his mind that non-Quranic statements of the Prophet were undermining the Book or contrary to it. And he knew that they too were revelatory sources of guidance to act upon. And this is undeniable.
To round this off, this whole experience is enviable. It also prepared Zayd to supervise a great task that became necessary after the death of the Prophet, upon him be peace.
The Battle of Yamama caused heavy losses, among them a sizable number of those who had committed the Quran to memory. Umar then advised Abu Bakr that if the Quran were not compiled into a single manuscript, portions may become lost. Abu Bakr agreed.
They called upon Zayd.
“You are a wise young man”, Abu Bakr said to Zayd. “And we trust you, for you have written down revelation for the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon hin. Therefore, compile the Quran into one (parchment).”
“By Allah!” Zayd said, as if the Earth leaped upon his shoulders, “I felt as if I was asked to move a mountain”.
But Zayd, mature and wise, understood. And he accepted.
With painstaking caution and precision so as to not let an atom’s weight of error or doubt enter, Zayd completed the task by gathering written texts and minds who had memorised the Book. After concurrence with several Companions known for their sound familiarity with the Book, the complete parchment was secured and given to Abu Bakr, Allah be pleased with him. And before he died, he left the Quran in script (or mushaf) with Umar, who in turn left it with his daughter, and wife of the Prophet, Hafsa. She along with Umm Salama and A’isha memorised the Quran.
However, during the reign of Uthman different readings of the Quran appeared in the expanding Muslim territories. A group of Companions, led by Hudayfa bin al Yaman, came from Iraq to speak to him about such variant renditions saying, “Please save the Ummah”.
Uthman called upon Zayd bin Thabit to scribe several copies of the authentic Quran kept with Hafsa. Zayd and his council – made up of Abdullah bin Zubayr, Sa’id bin al As, and Abd al Rahman bin al Harith bin Hisham – performed. When it was asked, Who is the best copyist? The answer was clear, “The scribe of the Messenger of Allah”, of course referring to Zayd. Several copies were made, which were sent to every Muslim province.
All of the other ‘Quranic’ materialis were burned.
So many things can be said about Zayd. But also it should be said that there are several great aspects about Muhammad, upon him be peace, that need be remembered. One of which comes to mind now is the way he could see past a person’s outer make up and discern his or her real strengths. Time and time again he demonstrated this with his Companions. He would entrust them with responsibilities he felt each was best to handle. In other words, he provided them with an opportunity to reap as much heavenly reward as possible using their own individual talents and strengths. And every time, he was correct. With Zayd he was correct.
Of course, we will not see new prophethood again in this life. But that wisdom which the Prophet mastered was not only for guidance, but for instruction as well. We would do ourselves a great favour if we as a community would be more discerning of those aspects of the Prophet and try with Allah’s help and all of our ability to bring them to bear on our current situation. We know this has been often said. Perhaps not too often.
In any case, what better thing is there to have associated with your name than the Quran? And what better words can a person hear about himself than what Umar, Allah be pleased with him, once proclaimed, “O people, whoever wants to ask about the Quran, let him go to Zayd bin Thabit”.
The Quran that we all have in our homes today is the very one Zayd bin Thabit and several other great and close Companions of the Prophet compiled and contains the very Words that left the lips of Rasulullah, upon him be peace. So we owe much gratitude to this remarkable man.
His care, precision, and intensified work has kept his name often mentioned in the du’a (prayers) of one billion-member Muslim family today. His youth – marching to the Prophet, determined to be part of the solution – is a model picture for young Muslims of any age. And his manner of work and determination is an inspiration for any one of us who wishes to do pleasing work whose benefit lasts long after we visit our graves.
(This article was typed by Muqith Mujtaba Ali from the May/June 1989 issue of Islamic Horizons)
No comments yet.