When the third Rightly-Guided Khaleefah ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affaan commissioned the writing of the official mushafs in the dialect of the Quraysh for the entire Ummah, he selected a group of people to carry out this task with Zayd ibn Thaabit at their head. There are a number of reports indicating that ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood was displeased with this choice. Some orientalists and missionaries use these reports to their attempts to impugn the reliability and preservation of the Qur’an. What follows are the words of two great scholars clearly addressing the nature of ibn Mas’ood’s concerns and the reasons for ‘Uthman’s decision.
The famous muhaddith, historian, and expert in qiraa’aat Imam Shams al-Deen al-Dhahabi mentioned some of these reports and then commented by explaining:
قلت : إنما شق على ابن مسعود ، لكون عثمان ما قدمه على كتابة المصحف ، وقدم في ذلك من يصلح أن يكون ولده ، وإنما عدل عنه عثمان لغيبته عنه بالكوفة ، ولأن زيدا كان يكتب الوحي لرسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – فهو إمام في الرسم ، وابن مسعود فإمام في الأداء ، ثم إن زيدا هو الذي ندبه الصديق لكتابة المصحف وجمع القرآن ، فهلا عتب على أبي بكر ؟ وقد ورد أن ابن مسعود رضي وتابع عثمان ولله الحمد . ـ
I say: The only reason why this upset ibn Mas’ood was because ‘Uthman had given precedence to someone other than him to write the official mushaf. Moreover, he had given that honor to someone who could have been his own son. But the only reasons why ‘Uthman didn’t select ibn Mas’ood was because he was far away in al-Kufah, and because Zayd used to write the revelation for Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ). So Zayd was an expert in writing, while ibn Mas’ood was an expert in reciting.
Furthermore, Zayd was the one who Abu Bakr had placed in charge of writing the mushaf and gathering the Qur’an all in one place, so [if ibn Mas’ood disapproved of Zayd’s ability], then why didn’t he disapprove of Abu Bakr’s initial decision? And it has been transmitted that ibn Mas’ood accepted ‘Uthman’s decision and followed it, alhamdulillaah.
وفي مصحف ابن مسعود أشياء أظنها نسخت ، وأما زيد فكان أحدث القوم بالعرضة الأخيرة التي عرضها النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – عام توفي ، على جبريل . ـ
Also, I believe the mushaf of ibn Mas’ood contained certain portions of the Qur’an whose recitation had been abrogated. But as for Zayd, he was the person most well-acquainted with the final review of the Qur’an which the Prophet had recited to Jibril in the year that he died.
[Siyar A’laam al-Nubalaa’ 1/488]
Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalaani made similar comments about ‘Uthman’s selection of Zayd over ibn Mas’ood, writing:
والعذر لعثمان في ذلك أنه فعله بالمدينة وعبد الله بالكوفة ولم يؤخر ما عزم عليه من ذلك إلى أن يرسل إليه ويحضر وأيضا فإن عثمان إنما أراد نسخ الصحف التي كانت جمعت في عهد أبي بكر وأن يجعلها مصحفا واحدا ، وكان الذي نسخ ذلك في عهد أبي بكر هو زيد بن ثابت كما تقدم لكونه كان كاتب الوحي ، فكانت له في ذلك أولية ليست لغيره . ـ
‘Uthman’s reasoning in that was that the process of writing the official mushaf was going to be carried out in al-Madinah but ibn Mas’ood was in al-Kufah, and ‘Uthman did not want to delay what he had resolved to accomplish for the amount of time that it would take to send word to ibn Mas’ood and for him to come to al-Madinah.
Also, ‘Uthman only wanted to copy over what had previously been collected on loose sheets during the time of Abu Bakr in order to make a complete mushaf, and the one who had made that original collection during the time of Abu Bakr was Zayd ibn Thaabit since, as we have previously discussed, he had been a scribe of the revelation. So therefore Zayd had a certain precedence for that task that no one else had.
[Fath al-Bari #4702]