The title may make a grand claim, so I had best state my case clearly. Looking at the picture below you may have rightly assumed it to be a Quran, but I am not making a case for the Quran in itself, although a reasonable argument could be made. If we are just talking about books as defined by their title, the competition is probably down to a three-way race between the Quran, The Bible and the Torah. Judaism may not have had the overall historical impact of Christianity or Islam but without it the others would not have existed so it would be unfair to leave the Torah out of the running. Eastern faiths either lacked one core book of the same level of significance (eg: Buddhism) or lacked the sufficient level of global impact outside their native lands (eg: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching). Political works such as Das Kapital may have impact for a century or two but tend to wane in the very long-term. Great philosophical works can still be relevant today and the Greek classics, for example made a huge contribution to the Abrahamic faiths but it would be difficult to pick one with an all-encompassing influence.
Of course this discussion may get many ranting and raving in praise of their preferred book so I only offer the above words as a discussion point and I look forward to receiving your nominations and justifications for the award. Besides it’s a discussion way above my pay grade, particularly since my income only gets me as far as relying on substandard public transport in the World’s economic basket cases.
What I am making the case for, however is for a specific copy of a book and in this case the Othman Quran (may be written in several ways: Osman Koran etc), a huge deerskin tome which now sits in its own special library in Tashkent. It is important because it goes to the core of the religion in key ways.
Othman was the third Caliph after the death of Mohammed and before that point the Quran existed only as a pile of separate writings sitting in a box, maybe without the level of neglect which that statement implies. It was Othman who, in 650 collated and edited these parts, decreeing that a number of exact copies should be made. There appears to be some discussion over the number but between three to six is usually quoted. Although he sought advice and assistance with this process, particularly with removing what he saw as inconsistencies, it was undoubtedly an editing process and all existing written material was destroyed after the tomes’ completion, so Othman played a central role in defining what the religion was to be. Not that this was as radical as Paul the Apostle’s place in the early days of Christianity but after Mohammed he had the most prominent role in shaping the basis of Islam. Who knows what was left out and for what reasons?
Whereas Christianity took five centuries of argument to reach an agreed text and even then not really settle the matter, as debate still continues, there can be little discussion over the actual words of the Quran because of Othman’s work. Of course this does still leave matters of interpretation and some scholarly debate over the early form of arabic used, as it did not have the numerous dots, dashes and marks which are used to distinguish some letters or vowel sounds that became regular in the 9th century.
Othman, although a pious and honorable man, met his end hacked to death whilst contemplating his copy of the Quran, a victim of riots stirred up against him, possibly unfairly, as a result of his appointment of his cousin to the position as the governor of Damascus. This Quran, stained with his blood was taken by Caliph Ali (Mohammed’s son-in-law and cousin) to Kufa in Iraq, where it stayed until Tamerlane arrived in the late 1300’s and brought it back to Samarkand. After a couple of later detours around the Soviet Union it eventually ended up back in Uzbekistan, in Tashkent where it now sits in its display case, replete with reddish-brown blood stains.
Maybe sceptics among you believe this story to be a load of mythical hogwash but the evidence was enough to convince UNESCO to grant it a special heritage status and to do so misses the point, in that its power is in what it represents. No single copy of the Bible or other religious book of sufficient importance, I would argue, has that link to the founding of the faith. To a non muslim visitor such as I the experience of being its presence, whilst not religious certainly generates a sense of awe. Its words have built and destroyed cities; inspired love and hate; created some of mankinds most beautiful works of art and burned others; shifted populations across the globe and founded sites as permanent as anything in the world of humans. If that’s not important I don’t know what is.