IN the second year after Hijrah, when the Muslims were preparing for a showdown with the powerful pagans of Makkah at Badr, a scrawny 11-year-old boy came forward and offered to join the soldiers. He was crestfallen when the Prophet (peace be upon him) declined to include him in the fighting ranks.
A year later at Uhud, when the pagans gathered to avenge their defeat at Badr, several youngsters crowded around the Prophet (peace be upon him) once again, hoping to try their luck. The Prophet (peace be upon him) looked at them apologetically and was about to send them back, when a boy called Rafi’ Bin Khadeej stepped forward with his bow and spear and said:
“I am, as you can see, very good at archery, so please allow me (to join the soldiers).”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) accepted him and another youngster called Samurah Bin Jundub who displayed his swordsmanship excellently, and turned the rest away promising that they would be allowed to join the next battle.
And so, in the Battle of the Trench (5 AH), the youngster who had been turned away twice, yet returned undeterred each time in his eagerness to serve the Muslim army – an orphan from Madina named Zaid Bin Thabit – finally joined the ranks. Having begun memorizing the Qur’an at the age of 11 and proved himself an able fighter later, he was handed the Muslims’ flag in preference to another companion by the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself on the Day of the Battle of Tabuk, with the words:
“It is fitting that the (one who has memorized) Qur’an leads.”
These words set the tone for the rest of Zaid Bin Thabit’s life. He narrates:
“I was taken to the Prophet (peace be upon him) on the outskirts of Madina and introduced to him as being from ‘among the Bani Najjar.’ The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked me to read what I knew from the Qur’an, so I recited 17 Surahs, which pleased him. He asked me to learn the language of the Jews, which I did in less than a month. Later, when he started sending letters to the rulers, he asked me to learn Syriac, and I would write his letters and read out their letters to him.”
Zaid Bin Thabit was the youngest scribe of the Qur’an and was among the handful of Companions who memorized the Qur’an as it was being revealed, the others being Ali Bin Abi Talib, Ubayy Bin Ka’b, Abdullah Bin Mas’ud and Abdullah Bin Abbas. In the year the Prophet (peace be upon him) passed away, he recited the entire Qur’an to the Prophet twice, and his recitation was called the ‘Qira’ah of Zaid Bin Thabit’, which he taught people until he passed away in 51 AH. Among others, prominent companions like Abdullah Bin Abbas, Abdullah Bin Umar, Abu Saeed Al-Khudri and Anas Bin Malik learnt the Qur’an from him.
After the Prophet‘s demise, a number of reciters of the Qur’an died during the Wars of Apostasy and the Battle of Yamamah, and so Caliph Abu Bakr gave Zaid Bin Thabit the onerous task of collecting the Qur’an from “parchment, scapulae, leafstalks of date palms and the hearts of men” onto sheets (Suhuf) and compiling it into a book (Mushaf). He later said,
“When I was commissioned to collect the Qur’an, I felt it would have been easier had I been asked to move a mountain from one place to another.”
Yet, as Umar said, there was no one better suited for the task than this “wise young man, whom people did not accuse (of any wrong).”
During the caliphate of Uthman Bin Affan, Zaid Bin Thabit was asked to make handwritten copies of the Mushaf, which were sent to various provinces as the standard version to prevent the Muslims from differing about the Qur’an, and which continue to be used verbatim even today.
There are many lessons to be taken from the life and personality of Zaid Bin Thabit: he dedicated himself to studies in order to benefit the Muslims, and did not lose his humility even when he was acknowledged as being among the leaders in knowledge of the Qur’an at a remarkably young age.
However, the most outstanding feature of his life is the immense Fadhl (favor) Allah grants the Ahl Al-Qur’an – people who teach, propagate and practice the Qur’an. As Ibn Sireen said:
“Zaid Bin Thabit won over the people by the Qur’an and Fara’idh (obligatory duties).”
Allah enabled him to transcend not just the people of his own era in good deeds, but many others to come until the Last Day – may He grant us the grace to go beyond merely taking inspiration from his life, to action.