Zayd bin Thabit (r.a.)

As the chapters and verses of the Quran were sent down, the Prophet (pbuh) memorized them himself and made other people memorize them; in addition, he called one of the Companions and made him write down the revelation. Those people who wrote the revelation were called revelation scribes. The Prophet had a few revelation scribes. One of them was Zayd bin Thabit (r.a.). [1]

Zayd bin Thabit was from Madinah. His father was killed in a battle and he was an orphan. He was very intelligent. He became a Muslim before the Migration when he was a child. When he was 11, he could read 17 chapters of the Quran by heart. Upon the request of the Prophet (pbuh), Hz. Zayd recited the chapters he knew by heart. The Prophet became very pleased when he listened to Zayd and complimented him.[2]

Zayd bin Thabit wanted to take part in the Battle of Badr, which was the first battle between the Muslims and the polytheists, but he was not included in the army of mujahids by the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) since he was very young.[3]

In the Battle of Badr, the Muslims had a glorious victory. More than 70 polytheists were killed and more than 70 polytheists were captured. The Prophet said a slave would be freed if he taught ten Muslims to read and write. Zayd bin Thabit was one of the Companions who learned to read and write from one of the slaves captured during the Battle of Badr.[4]

After learning to read and write very well, Hz. Zayd bin Thabit started to write the revelation sent down to the Messenger of Allah. When Ubayy bin Ka'b, one of the revelation scribes, was absent, the Prophet would summon Zayd bin Thabit and dictate him the verses. Then, he made corrections if necessary.

Zayd bin Thabit narrates a spiritual state he witnessed while writing the revelation as follows: 

"I was sitting next to the Messenger of Allah when some revelation was being sent down. Some heaviness fell on him. When the heaviness fell on him, his knees were on my knees. I swear by Allah that I had never seen anything heavier than the knees of the Messenger of Allah at that time. Then, this heaviness disappeared. He said to me, "Write O Zayd! I picked a scapula. I wrote verse 95 of the chapter of an-Nisa fully.  When Ibn Umm Maktum, who was blind, heard the virtues of mujahids, he stood up and said, "O Messenger of Allah! What is the situation of those who are blind, etc and cannot fight in the way of Allah?" I swear by Allah that heaviness fell on the Messenger of Allah again as soon as Umm Maktum finished his sentence. This time his knees were heavier. Then, the heaviness disappeared. He said to me, "Read what you have written." When I read what I had written, he added the phrase "without any excuse". Then, I added that phrase to the verse."

Apart from revelation, Zayd bin Thabit also wrote the letters to be sent to kings and leaders of tribes. He also wrote the treaties.

Upon the encouragement of the Prophet, he also learned Hebrew and Assyrian.

He narrates how he learned Hebrew as follows:

"The Messenger of Allah said to me, 'O Zayd! Learn the language of Jews for me. I do not trust in Jews related to my written documents.' I learned it in two weeks. When it was necessary to write something to Jews, I wrote it."[5]

It is narrated that Hz. Zayd also learned Assyrian. We understand from this incidence that Islam gives importance to learning languages.

As it is known, the Hebrew letters that were sent to the Prophet were translated by Jewish translators. Or, the Prophet dictated the letters to be sent to them to Jewish translators.  

Zayd bin Thabit felt very sorry that he could not take part in the Battle of Badr due to his age He wished to join the jihad army very much when it was possible. Eventually, he was given a duty during the Battle of Khandaq, where Islamic heroes worked very hard. He could not dig but he helped the mujahids by carrying the soil that was dug out. When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) saw his efforts, he appreciated him by saying, "What a nice boy!"[6]After the task of digging the trench finished, the Prophet sent the children to their families but he did not send Abdullah bin Umar and Zayd bin Thabit. He allowed them to join the battle.

After the death of the Prophet, the election of the caliph was an urgent task. Ansar and Muhajirs showed different candidates. Zayd bin Thabit was 20 years old then. He was a very active person. He helped to unite the ideas and made the following offer:

"The Messenger of Allah was a muhajir. We were helpers of muhajirs. We will also be helpers of the one to be elected as the caliph"[7]

Soon, the Companions paid allegiance to Hz. Abu Bakr. Thus, this important issue was settled easily.

The biggest service of Zayd bin Thabit, who was a person of the Quran, was about the Quran. He exerted great efforts regarding the issue. The Quran was not compiled in the form of a book as it is today when the Prophet was alive. The biggest share in the compilation of the Quran belonged to Zayd.

The revelation that came to the Prophet was written on pieces of paper, tanned leather, flat white stones and the scapulas of camels by revelation scribes. However, these things, on which verses and chapters of the Quran were written, were not stored in a certain place. The Companions that wanted them were allowed to take them. There were a lot of Companions who had memorized the whole Quran; so there was not a need for its compilation. When a lot of Companions who had memorized the whole Quran died during the Battle of Yamama after the death of the Prophet, such a need occurred.

The first person to feel this need was Hz. Umar (r.a.). He was worried that the number of hafizes would decrease in the course of time, that the things on which verses were written could be lost and that some verses could be forgotten. He talked to the caliph Hz. Abu Bakr about the issue. He suggested bringing together the documents of the Quran that were in various places and putting them between two covers. Hz. Abu Bakr hesitated when he heard this offer because he was offered to do something that the Messenger of Allah had not done. However, he found it reasonable on second thought. They found Zayd bin Thabit appropriate for the task.

Hz. Zayd bin Thabit was about 20 years old then. There were several reasons why they chose him for that task. First of all, he was the revelation scribe of the Messenger of Allah in Madinah. He was one of the Companions that had memorized the whole Quran and was one of the best reciters of it. He was very intelligent. Besides, Hz. Zayd showed all of the verses that he had written to the Prophet in the year when he died like Jibril who read the whole Quran to the Prophet. Therefore, Hz. Zayd was perfectly suited for such a lofty task. Besides, knowledge and qualifications were more important than age for such issues.

Hz. Abu Bakr and Hz. Umar decided to give the duty of compiling the verses of the Quran to Zayd bin Thabit. Then, they called him. When Hz. Zayd came Hz. Abu Bakr told Zayd about the conversation between him and Hz. Umar and said,

"You are a young and intelligent person. We cannot say anything against you. You used to write the revelation that came to the Messenger of Allah. Will you compile the Quran and check the verses?"

Hz. Zayd hesitated when he heard this offer just as Hz. Abu Bakr did. He said, "How will you do something that the Messenger of Allah did not do?" Then, he was convinced that it would be useful and accepted the duty. Hz. Zayd stated the following to indicate the difficulty of this duty

 "I swear by Allah that if they had offered me to carry a mountain, I would have not found it more difficult than compiling the Quran."[8]

He believed that it was necessary to fulfill such a holy duty though it was difficult. He started to seek the documents on which the verses of the Quran were written. He acted very cautiously. He did not accept the verses that were brought to him unless they proved that it had been written in the presence of the Messenger of Allah by two witnesses. He recorded them after that.

Thanks to the efforts of Companions, Hz. Zayd bin Thabit completed the task of compiling the Quran in one year, which was a very short time. Then, the Companions gathered. Hz. Zayd read the verses that he had compiled to them. They approved what he read and nobody objected. The pages of the Quran that were put between two covers were kept by Hz. Abu Bakr. After his death, they were kept by Hz. Umar; after Hz. Umar, his daughter Hz. Hafsa, who was also one of the wives of the Prophet kept them.

After fulfilling the duty of compiling the verses of the Quran during the caliphate of Hz. Abu Bakr, Zayd bin Thabit taught people qiraah (how to read the Quran) during the caliphate of Hz. Umar. He also issued fatwas. Hz. Umar, who was very strict about fatwas, prohibited the people except Zayd bin Thabit and a few Companions from issuing fatwas.[9]

Whenever Hz. Umar went on an expedition, he left Zayd bin Thabit as his deputy. He appreciated his knowledge and virtues, saying, "The people find in Zayd what they cannot find in other people." He also advised the people who had questions about faraiz (how to divide inheritance) to ask Hz. Zayd. [10]

One of the important services of Zayd bin Thabit about the Quran was during the caliphate of Hz. Uthman.

The Quran (mushaf), which was compiled during the caliphate of Hz. Abu Bakr did not meet the needs of the people because it was only one copy. As days passed, Islamic conquests increased and the land where the Quran was dominant extended. Therefore, the people in the conquered places needed the people that would teach them the Quran and the Islamic law. Therefore, the Companions that recited the Quran nicely went to various cities. For instance, Abdullah bin Mas'ud went to  Kufa and Ubayy bin Ka'b went to Damascus. There were some differences in the qiraah style of these Companions. 

Armenia was conquered by the Muslims of Iraq and Damascus. The people of Damascus read the Quran based on the qiraah of Ubayy bin Ka'b. The people of Iraq had not heard this style before. The people of Iraq read the Quran based on the qiraah of Abdullah bin Mas'ud. The people of Damascus had not heard this style before. There was not a resource they could refer to; therefore, the controversy between them could have increased and led to a conflict. 

Hudhayfa al-Yamani who was present in the conquest of Armenia, witnessed this controversy. As soon as he arrived in Madinah, he informed Hz. Uthman, the caliph, about the situation. Hz. Uthman called the notables of the Companions to negotiate the issue. He consulted them. Consequently, they decided to reproduce a few copies of the Quran (mushaf) and send them to various cities. A committee of four people including Hz. Zayd bin Thabit was set up and given the duty of reproducing the only copy of the whole Quran. This committee reproduced seven - according to a narration - four copies. These copies were sent to big cities like Basra and Damascus.  Thus, the controversies about the qiraah of the Quran were prevented. Zayd bin Thabit definitely had the biggest share in this service.[11]

Like during the caliphate of Hz. Umar, Zayd bin Thabit continued to serve as a fatwa issuer during the caliphate of Hz. Uthman, Hz. Ali and the first five years of the caliphate of Hz. Muawiya. Like Hz. Umar, they did not prefer anyone to Hz. Zayd regarding fatwa.

Hz. Zayd's method of fiqh and ijtihad was accepted in the period when he lived. Said bin Musayyab, a companion who was one of the seven fiqh scholars, did not accept what he heard from others before asking Zayd bin Thabit.

Thus, Zayd bin Thabit, who had great services in the sciences of the Quran and fiqh, also had great service in the science of hadith. He heard the hadiths that he reported directly from the Messenger of Allah and he learned hadiths from Hz. Abu Bakr, Hz. Umar and Hz. Uthman. Hz. Zayd reported 92 hadiths. One of them is as follows:

"I am leaving you two things. The first one is the book of Allah, which is like a rope between the sky and the earth. The second one is my Ahl al-Bayt (the people of my house), who will not leave me until I am given the Pool of Kawthar."[12]

Hz. Zayd did not only become famous for his science and knowledge but he also became the symbol of high ethics. He was also known for his love of the Messenger of Allah. He loved the Messenger of Allah so much that he went to the Messenger of Allah after the morning prayer every day and served him.[13]

Zayd bin Thabit did not fear anybody including governors about "advising the good and forbidding the evil" and always told the truth. Marwan, the governor of Madinah, invited him to his place in order to learn from his knowledge and merit; he made Zayd sit in his chair. Once, he called him again. After talking to Marwan for a while, the people approached him and asked him why the governor had called him.  Hz. Zayd said, "He asked me about some things that we heard from the Prophet." Then, he added:

"The Messenger of Allah said, ‘May Allah Almighty brighten the face of a person who hears a hadith from me, memorizes it and informs other people about it! For, there are some people who are not fiqh scholars but who carry fiqh. They convey it to people who are better at fiqh. There are three things that every Muslim needs to do:  (1) Not to leave sincerity and consent of Allah; (2) to give advice to administrators; (3) to maintain the spirit of congregation."‘[14]

Zayd bin Thabit was regarded to be the Companion that read the Quran in the best way but he expressed his modesty and wish to learn as follows: 

"If I knew a person who read the Quran better than me, I would go to him as far as my camel reached."[15]

Zayd bin Thabit, who spent all of his life in the service of Islam, died in 45 (H). Everybody felt very sad when they heard his death. All Muslims were distressed by the death of this great scholar. Ibn  Umar said, "The most knowledgeable person died today." Ibn Abbas stated that many scholars were buried with their knowledge and pointed to Hz. Zayd's grave by saying, "Knowledge is buried like this."[16]

May Allah be pleased with him!


[1]Tabaqat, 2: 335.

[2]al-Isaba, 1: 561.

[3]ibid, 1: 550.

[4]Tabaqat, 2: 22.

[5]al-Isaba, 1: 561; Tabaqat, 2: 358.

[6]al-Isaba, 1: 551.

[7]Tabaqat, 3: 212.

[8]Bukhari, Fadailu'l-Qur'an: 2.

[9]Tabaqat, 2: 361.

[10]ibid, 2: 359.

[11]Bukhari, Fadailu'l-Qur'an: 2.

[12]Musnad, 5: 182.

[13]ibid, 5: 192.

[14]ibid, 5: 183.

[15]Tabaqat, 2: 344.

[16]ibid, 2: 360.

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