Why Do We Worry So Much about Typos –
And other Errors in Our Writings?
You may ask why we worry so much about typos. Almost to the point of obsession, you may think.
And about other errors in our writing.
Answer comes in three words: With Good Reason.
Let us explain how that works.
Allah sent his book – the Qur’an. And he made the Qur’an error free.
Allah said, right at the outset – in the very second passage of the second Surah of the Qur’an:
Laa Rayiba Feehi.
“That is the book!
It is completely error free.”
That is both a statement of fact and a universal standard that God Almighty sets for his creation to emulate.
That is a Hadith, right there, did you know that?
Paraphrasing it is a challenge. Like paraphrasing anything else – from the Qur’an or the Hadith.
But here are some cautious attempts to get the meaning of that most challenging Hadith as close to right as possible:
“Be like God!”
“Behave like God!”
“Cultivate in yourself the attributes of God!”
“Learn about divine qualities and use them in your life!”
“Model your own behavior after God’s.”
Don’t ask me what any of these things mean. All I know is that is what the Arabic words of this most noble Hadith seem to indicate.
But the fact is that no human activity or product can ever be error free. It can never be perfect. For, perfection belongs only to God – and to no one else.
Therefore, what we as human beings are expected to do is to strive as hard as we can to make our products and our activities as error free as possible – in other words, as close to perfection as possible.
That is how the Qur'an came down to our time and age and into our hands – after the passage of a long period of 1400-plus years – as error free as God Almighty originally sent it down to Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, in Makkah and Madinah.
That is right.
The Qur’an was error free then, when it was sent down in Makkah and Madinah. And it is error free now, as we access and read it today wherever on God’s earth we happen to be.
The Qur’an, therefore, is just as error free now – in the year 2016 of the Julian/Gregorian Calendar or the year 1437 of the Hijri Calendar – in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, the Arctic, the Antarctic and elsewhere, as it was in Makkah and Madinah in the middle of the 6th-7th Centuries of the Christian Era and just before and after the beginning of the Islamic Calendar.
That means the Qur’an today is as Laa Rayiba Feehi – everywhere on earth, as it is in heaven – in a most protected tablet called Lawuh Mahfooz!
Just as Allah sent it down 14 centuries ago: Error Free – in every sense of the word.
- There is no other document of any kind like it – anywhere.
- Not in the collection of anyone’s religious or scriptural lore.
- Not in historical archives of any kind.
- Not in the world of academia and universities – and serious scholarship.
- And certainly not in the world of popular literature of any kind whatsoever.
That means there is no document of any kind on earth that can lay claim to being error free.
Nor can any document of any kind, should it ever make such a claim, withstand the scrutiny that such a claim would warrant and should trigger.
This is not a statement of anyone’s faith or devoutness. This is not a confessional of any kind. This is a simple and straightforward empirical claim – an assertion of earthly, observable, tangible fact.
That means this is a statement that could – and should – be subjected to rigorous and systematic inquiry and investigation using every scrap of data and facts and evidence that may be available.
Therefore, it is fair to say that if you are looking for a miracle in human hands, you need to look no further. For, this is as good, as strong and as self-evident a miracle as you are ever going to find anywhere on this earth.
The plain, open and self-evident miracle of the Qur’an.
Thus, while the Qur'an is every inch and every ounce a divine miracle, living in our own mortal, fallible and feeble hands today, it is also a standing testimony to the vigilance of countless generations of Muslims in making sure that the Qur'an stayed error free.
But in truth the credit does not belong to Muslims. For, God himself directly assumed the responsibility of protecting the Qur’an and keeping it error free forever.
Innaa Nahnu Nazzalnadh Dhikra,
Wa Innaa Lahu La-Hafizoon!
“We sent down this Qur’an – the Dhikr,
And we shall be the ones guarding and protecting it forever!”
And yet Muslims deserve credit. For, Muslims, all through the ages worried – call it obsessed – about accuracy when they sat down to transcribe the Qur'an.
And Muslims worried about error when they recited the Qur'an – whenever and wherever they did it.
And they did so even when they were reciting the Qur’an in Salaah – in their formal collective public prayers that is.
And Muslims worried – yes, “obsessed” is about right – about making mistakes when they memorized the Qur'an.
And God Almighty helped them out in all sorts of ways – both direct and indirect.
One direct divine mechanism that was placed in the hands of Muslims – ordinary Muslims – through the agency of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, to guard the Qur'an from error, even during a formal and serious context such as the Salaatul Jama’ah or so-called Congregational Prayer, was as follows:
Every Muslim Congregationist – all those ordinary Muslims standing in line after line behind the Prayer Leader or the Imam – must exercise utmost vigilance. And they should listen carefully to the recitation of the Qur’an by the Prayer Leader.
And should, at any point, the Prayer Leader make an error in his recitation of the Qur’an, the Congregationists behind him, the Muslim masses as it were, should immediately correct that error in a loud voice.
There is no priority or order of any kind here. No trappings of holiness or ordination or power or hierarchy of any kind or nature or description.
Just plain People.
It is everyone – or anyone. Whoever is able to at that particular time and in that particular situation.
In Social Psychology – I think that is what it is – there is a theory called Diffusion of Responsibility Theory. That means, when the field is left open like this for all, then no one generally comes forward to take responsibility – to undertake the required action that is.
That is because every individual thinks that the other person will do it.
But the Islamic Model of Collective Responsibility flips this Social Psychological Diffusion of Responsibility Theory on its head. It trains and teaches every ordinary Muslim to take personal responsibility for what is going on and to undertake corrective action as called for by the situation.
Islam, thus, teaches the masses – The People as it were – to hold their leadership to public account at all levels and in all situations.
Even to the point of publicly correcting an error made by their Prayer Leader in the course of reciting the Qur’an during Congregational Prayers.
There is no better way of drilling masses of humanity – The People – in the broad principle of Participatory Democracy.
That means, when your leaders – whoever they may be – act wrong, don’t just stand around and watch helplessly. Take active steps to correct them. Do this even if the situation is as formal and serious as Congregational Prayer or Public Worship.
That, in a word, ladies and gentlemen, is Islam.
To the extent Western Culture was able to learn this lesson from Islamic teachings and practices, Western Culture has been able to live happily ever after in this world.