The Qur’an was first compiled during the lifetime of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (رضي الله عنه), the first khalifa, whose rule lasted from the death of the last messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) for two years.
Why wasn’t it compiled during the time of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) himself?
- On-Going Revelation: Revelation was still coming down. If you wrote two verses next to each other, and Allah revealed one in the middle–or an extension to the end of a surah–what then? They didn’t have staplers to staple pages into the middle!
- No Need: The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was still alive, and so were his companions, and they were all there with him. What need was there to compile it? The knowledge was there in the community.
- Arrangement was not Finalized: New verses would come down and be added to the middle of surahs. If it’s already written in a book, what do you do? How can you fit it in?
- Abrogation: Although abrogated verses are very few, sometimes a verse would be abrogated–so what if it was written down? What do you do with it?
In any case, in Abu Bakr’s time, there was a big battle, where 70 huffadh were martyred. After this one battle, ‘Umar convinced Abu Bakr–who was hesitant at first–to compile the Qur’an into one book. Prior to this, it was written down in scraps and fragments; and some of it was only memorized, not written down. And ‘Umar feared that the unwritten parts would be lost.
So together, they agreed; and they agreed on who would compile the Qur’an–Zayd ibn Thabit (رضي الله عنه).
Why Zayd? He was the main scribe of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), he was a hafidh himself, and he was known was his piety and knowledge of the Qur’an.
What did Zayd say? He was hesitant too, at first–but then he agreed. They all knew the necessity of it. Zayd said, then: “If they had asked me to move a mountain, I would’ve found that easier then the task they gave me.” [Saheeh Bukhari]
Because of the responsibility–the entire Ummah, for all time, is relying on Zayd.
And he compiled it. Despite being a hafidh, he gathered the sahaba. His condition? He would collect verses that two sahaba heard DIRECTLY from the lips of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم)–nothing less.
And he was a hafidh! He knew the WHOLE Qur’an! Still, he made this his criterion.
And so, bit by bit, over eight months, he collected it.
And there it was–the first mushaf, the first fully compiled end-to-end Qur’an.
Yasir Qadhi. Lecture. AlMaghrib. Route 114: Qur’anic Sciences. University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus, March 2008.