It was on the eve of the 27th of Ramadan, 13 years before the Hijra (migration to Madina), that the Prophet received the first revelation. It consisted of five verses, "Read in the name of the Lord who has created, who has created man from a clot. Read! And it is thy Lord, the most Bounteous, Who has taught through the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not." (96:1-5)
It is inspiring to consider that the first revelation the Prophet received as an illiterate man was the commandment to learn reading, and that the pen is praised as the custodian of all human sciences, culture and civilization.
Such fragmented revelations continued for 23 years, until the death of the Prophet. It is the collection of these revelations that is known as the Qur'an.
When a message was revealed to him, the Prophet recited it first in the gathering of men and then again in a gathering of women, as Ibn Ishaq records, to emphasize the importance the Prophet attached to the education.
He dictated the revelation to some scribes, copies multiplied, and the contents were also memorized by his companions. When another revelation followed, the Prophet not only dictated it in a similar manner, but also indicated precisely the exact place the new passage should take in the existing collection of the revealed verses.
The Qur'an was not compiled by the mechanical method of arranging the verses in chronological order, but according to the ideas that were developed.
There are 114 suras (chapters) in the Qur'an of varying lengths. Sometimes a whole chapter was revealed at once, sometimes in several installments. Sometimes even several chapters continued to be revealed simultaneously in parallel installments. In this last case, it was natural that the scribes or secretaries copied the fragments on available material provisionally, and as soon as a chapter was completely revealed, they assorted the fragments under the supervision of the Prophet, and made a fair copy.
Apart from written copies and memorization, people attended the public meetings of recitation the Prophet held every year in the month of Ramadan (called 'arda, "presentation") and collated their copies of the Qur'an with what the Prophet recited.
During the last Ramadan of his life, the Prophet took the additional precaution of doing the recitation twice. That occasion is known as the "arda akhira," the last presentation.
The Prophet assured that at such occasions Jibreel (Gabriel) was present and if and when the Prophet forgot something, Jibreel refreshed his memory and reminded him of the right words.
Thus the sequence, not only of the verses of a chapter but even the sequence of the chapters, was established by the Prophet under the direction of the divine message-bearer, Jibreel. Some companions learned the Qur'an directly from the Prophet and then taught in their turn to their pupils, neighbors, and friends.
If the copyist committed an error, the memorized text could reveal and correct it; if memory failed sometimes, it could be refreshed by referring to the written text; and if the defect happened to occur in both simultaneously (for instance, if one memorized a text from a written document which was defective), this could be corrected by the qualified teacher.
This triple method of cross checks has continued from the time of the Prophet until today. At the end of a student's time of study, a student would get a certificate in which his/her teacher would give in detail the chain of his own teachers, and teacher of teachers, and on up to the Prophet, and would affirm having taught exactly was she or he had learned from a teacher.
A few weeks after the death of the Prophet, Caliph Abu Bakr appointed an expert committee of the hafiz (those who had memorized the Qur'an) to make a fair copy of the Qur'an in book form since no addition or change was possible after the death of the Prophet.
As an extra precaution, he ordered the committee to get at least two written evidences from among those corrected under the supervision of the Prophet for every word or verse on record.
Some years later, the Caliph Uthman took several copies from the same official codex, and asked that each of them be read publicly in the Grand Mosque of Madina.
When the correctness of each copy was established, it was sent to provincial centers with the order that from then on copies should be made only from this edition and all conflicting and divergent texts should be destroyed as forgeries.
Of these copies of Uthman, one is preserved and exhibited in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, and another which lacks some leaves is in Tashkent.
Numerous manuscripts of the Qur'an from the first and later centuries are extant in the world; it has been proved that there are absolutely no variants and differences between then, copyists mistakes excepted.