The Qur'an, otherwise spelled Koran, is the book of God for muslims, who believe that it is the eternal, literal word of God, revealed to Prophet Muhammad over a period of 22 years. It consists of 114 suras (chapters) and 6000 ayats (verses). Muslims believe that the earthly Qur'an is a copy of sections of a series of "well-guarded tablets" in heaven known as the Book of Heaven.
Much of the content in the Qur'an makes reference back to parts of the Jewish and Christian Bibles. Well-known Biblical characters such as Abraham, Noah, and Jesus are mentioned. Detractors of the Qur'an and Muhammad have claimed that Muhammad was merely taking older religious documents and stories and embellishing them. Muslims maintain that this could not be the case. They claim that modern science has identified many factual errors and internal inconsistencies in the Bible, but that the Qur'an has none and, in cases where Biblical stories reappear in very similar form in the Qur'an, the stories are always changed in such a way that the scientific inaccuracies and inconsistencies are gone. The absence of inaccuracies and inconsistencies are, they claim, proof that it comes from God.
Muslims believe that the wording in the Qur'an text we have today is identical to that spoken by Muhammad himself. Muhammad only delivered the Qur'an in spoken form during his lifetime; the word "Qur'an", in fact, means "the recitation". The faithful were require to memorize them perfectly, down to the last syllable, and recite them frequently, to make sure they had the text perfectly. Shortly after his death, his disciples began recording all the Suras in written form. Thus, two different mechanisms were in place -- oral and written -- to help ensure that no corruption of the text took place over time. There is almost no dispute amongst Islamic clerics that the text today is as it was when it was first written down.
Contemporary Scholarship and the Qur'an
Islamic scholars, on the other hand, have long shown that this is not quite the case. Just as higher biblical criticism revolutionzed Judaism and Christianity by calling into question long held assumptions about the origins of the Bible, similar studies have done the same for the Qur'an. Scholars of Islamic religious literature now agree that much of the Qur'an is a modified composite based on the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] and the New Testament. It is recognized that many of the pious claims about its composition and content are not historically supportable.
- Islamic history records that Uthman collected all variants of the Qur'an and destroyed those that he did not approve of
- There is no evidence that Uthman's choices are necessarily correct.
- Hard textual evidence reveals that the text of the Qur'an continued to develop after this time.
- The Hadith claims that the Qur'an is defective; the Hadith is the authoritative Muslim understanding of the Qur'an and Islamic law. (It is roughly equivalent to Judaism's oral law in the Mishna and Talmuds.) The Hadiths say that some of the Qur'an was lost, forgotten, or abrogated. It explicitly refers to chapters [suras] in the Qur'an that are no longer extant.
- While never discussed in public among religious Muslims, Islamic scholars note that there are a number of variants in modern day versions of the Qur'an.
The Quran Browser http://www.stg.brown.edu/webs/quran_browser/pqeasy.shtml
Textual Variants of the Qur'an http://answering-islam.org/Quran/Text/
What is the Koran? http://theatlantic.com/issues/99jan/koran.htm