Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: it was never Allah’s intention to use His omnipotent power to guard the Quran from corruption, nor was it His intent to imbue succeeding generations of transcribers with infallibility. No, the Lord of the Worlds had something a little more subtle and practical in mind.
Although most Quranic scholars seemed to have missed it, the first hint at what Allah had in mind came in the first two verses of surah Baqarah. It states: 1) “Alif Lam Mim” 2) “This is the Scripture in which there is no doubt. . . .” (Abdul Haleem translation) Notice that verse 2 begins with the word “This” (Hadha), yet the Arabic word in the verse is “That” (Dhalika). Most of the translators make this switch.
Now, this is not a mistake on the part of the scholars. I’m sure that if a mid-level Arabic reader like me can detect the switch in meaning, surely an Arabic scholar could. So why do they do it? Well, translating Dhalika as Hadha shifts the focus of the reader from what was just said to what is to come. This shift in focus is very significant: 1) it is the principle reason Muslims have been baffled by the Muqatta’at (Abbreviated Letters) for 1400 years, and 2) it deprived them of the knowledge of just how Allah intended to protect his book.
Rather than grasping the obvious implications of that single word, Muslims veered off into all sorts of speculative directions, deriving just as many elaborate and unsound theories about the meaning of the abbreviated letters found at the head of some surah. Had they not been distracted and focused their attention in the direction Allah was pointing them, they would have seen that what Allah was trying to tell them was that it is the Arabic language itself that would guard the Quran from corruption.
The Arabic language is such that the least irregularity or anomaly will stick out like a sore thumb. For example, in 7:69 of some Qurans, the word بَسْطَةً is written with “ـص” rather than “س.” This was an obvious mistake in transcription given the fact that there is no such word in Arabic as “Bastatan” spelled with Sad. To correct the mistake a small س was generally printed above the ـص to alert the reciter that it should be pronounced as س.
Some of Islam’s detractors, namely Answeringislam.com, seized upon this mistake in transcription as proof that the Quran could not have come from God. But, what they viewed as a victory was, instead, proof of the Quran’s authenticity, for it was the rules of Arabic grammar that alerted them to the anomaly in the first place, thus guarding itself from corruption.
There were a few other instances of misspellings, and differences in pronoun usage between Warsh and Hafs, but nothing significant. They could all be traced to mistakes in transcription and easily corrected. This would not have been possible had it not been for the rules of Arabic grammar.
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the flare-up cause by Rahad Khalifa’s no.19 theory. Khalifa believed that the Quran was protected by a mathematical code base on the number 19. His research led him to conclude that the Abbreviated Letters (Muqatta’at) appearing at the beginning of certain surah could be calculated and the total would be divisible by 19. However, Khalifa finding s were challenged and repudiated by other Islamic scholars.
The problem with Khalifa’s theory was that his methodology lack consistency. He would use one set of equations in one surah and another in the next, for example, in order to make his count of the letter ﻥ (Nun) in surah Nun match his 19 theory, he spelled out the letter that served as the surah’s title.
To be fair, Khalifa’s research did lead to some interesting discoveries, but zeal to make everything be divisible or a multiple of 19 simply went too far.
Ultimately, the protection of the Quran does not lie in the number of letters, but in the letters themselves—the Arabic grammar.