The Authorized Variant Readings of the Qur’aan – Part One

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“Verily, this Qur’aan was revealed in seven forms. Therefore, recite according to whatever form is easy of it.” [Saheeh al-Bukhaari]

On page 2 of his brochure, Gilchrist states:

“As we analyze the history of the text of the Qur’aan we will find that, like the Bible, it has suffered from variant readings and other vagaries, notwithstanding the fact that it has been carefully preserved as a whole.”

In fact, an analysis of the history of the Qur’aan Shareef will indicate the opposite of what Gilchrist is out to achieve. Unlike the Bible, the Qur’aan never suffered from unauthorized variant readings as the above statement of Gilchrist tends to assert. Furthermore, the vagaries which reduced the original Bible to the man-made book it is now, never overtook the Qur’aan-e-Hakeem. Gilchrist’s claim is wishful thinking which cannot be substantiated with facts and historical evidence. Whereas the Bible truly suffered under the axe of interpolation, wholesale addition and deletion, the Qur’aan has remained in its original form without the addition or deletion of a single letter. The comparison between the Qur’aan and Bible presented by Gilchrist is, therefore, ludicrous and just cannot be borne out by evidence.

In substantiation for his claim that the Qur’aan “suffered from variant readings” like the Bible, Gilchrist tenders the following narration:

“Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sha’m and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’aan so he said to Uthmaan, ‘O Chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Qur’aan) as Jews and the Christians did before.’ So Uthmaan sent a message to Hafsa, saying, ‘Send us the manuscript of the Qur’aan so that we may compile the Qur’aan materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you.’ Hafsa sent it to Uthmaan. Uthmaan then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, Abdullah bin az-Zubair, Sa’id bin al-As, and Abdur-Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. Uthmaan said to the three Quraishi men, ‘In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur’aan, then write it in the dialect of Quraish as the Qur’aan was revealed in their tongue’. They did so, and when they had written many copies, Uthmaan returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. Uthmaan sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’aanic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p.479)

Commenting on the aforementioned narration, Gilchrist states:

“This tradition informs us quite clearly that other manuscripts of the Qur’aan, some in sections, others complete, had been written out and that they were in use elsewhere in the conquered territories. Uthmaan’s order that they should be burnt indicates that there were serious textual differences between them and the manuscript in Hafsah’s possession.”

The following narration gives a clearer explanation of the event mentioned in the Hadith of Bukhaari:

“While participating in Jihaad along the Armenian front I observed the people of Shaam reciting according to the Qira’at of Ubay Bin Ka’b (Radiallahu anhu), but the people of Iraq have not heard of this Qira’at. The people of Iraq were reciting according to the Qira’at of Abdullah Bin Mas’ud (Radiallahu anhu), but the people of Shaam have not heard of this Qira’at. In consequence (of this mutual ignorance of the other’s Qira’at) the one group was branding the other as kaafir.”

This narration establishes the following facts:

1. The people of Shaam were reciting in accordance with the Qira’at of Ubay Bin Ka’b (Radiallahu anhu).

2. The people of Iraq adhered to the Qira’at of Abdullah Bin Mas’ud (Radiallahu anhu).

3. The two forms of Qira’at (Recitation) were imparted by two senior authorities of Qira’at, who were both senior Sahaabah.

4. As a result of the one group being ignorant of the official and authentic Qira’at of the other group, mutual disputes arose. The one group laboured under the impression that the other group had adopted an innovatory and unofficial form of Qira’at.

The facts in this as well as other Hadith narrations clearly reveal that the “differences” in the recitals of various people were all official, authorized and divine forms which were taught by Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) to the Sahaabah who in turn imparted their knowledge of Qira’at to their students. Both Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud and Ubay Bin Ka’b (Radiallahu anhumaa) were senior Sahaabah and authorities of Qira’at who were authorized and qualified to teach Qira’at.

Thus, the “variant” forms of recitation which they imparted to their respective students and disciples were not innovatory and can never be branded as being additions to the Qur’aan. Their forms of Qira’at were sanctioned by Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) who said that the Qur’aan was revealed in seven forms (Sab’at-e-Ahruf).

This may be news to Gilchrist, but Muslims and even those foes of Islam who have made a study of the history of the Qur’aan are aware of this fact. Gilchrist cites the narration of Huzaifah (Radiallahu anhu) from Bukhaari to back up his claim of “variant” readings which he endeavours to trade as “additions” to the Qur’aan while just a few lines after the same narration in Bukhaari, appears the narrations speaking of the official and authoritative forms of recitation. At the end of the Hadith, Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) says:

“Verily, this QUR’AAN was revealed in SEVEN FORMS. Therefore, recite according to whatever form is easy of it.”

Numerous Hadith narrations and the history of the Qur’aan establish beyond any doubt that the “variant readings” which were employed in the early days were all sanctioned by Islam. All such forms of Qira’at were sanctioned by Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) himself. Such disputes as Gilchrist mentions existed even among the Sahaabah themselves during the very lifetime of Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) since all the Sahaabah were not aware of ALL the different forms of Qira’at. However, whenever he would report to Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and obtain clarification and verification of the form which he had heard another Sahaabi reciting. The Hadith Kitaabs bear ample testimony to this fact.

Since the Qur’aan was revealed in different forms, it is ridiculous to claim that any one of these authorized forms represents an addition to the Qur’aan since our contention is that all the authorized “variant readings” are revealed and part of the Qur’aan. Yes, if Gilchrist asserts that the Qira’at of Ubay Bin Ka’ab or of Abdullah Bin Mas’ud or of any other authority of the Shariah is not among the authorized and sanctioned versions of the Qur’aan, then there would be a charge of interpolation. But, then Gilchrist should furnish his proof for such a charge. He does not possess the slightest shred of evidence to substantiate any such claim.

The “variant readings” are accepted as the Qur’aan by Islam since all such “variant readings” were revealed forms. It is entirely another matter that all such “variant readings” have been discarded by the Ijma’ (Unanimous Verdict) of the Ummah since the time of Hadhrat Uthmaan (Radiallahu anhu). The official and divine form of Qira’at adopted by the Ijma’ of the Sahaabah during the time of Uthmaan (Radiallahu anhu) exists with the Ummah today. A brief history of the various forms of Qur’aanic recitals will assist readers to comprehend this issue better.

THE SEVEN AHRUF OF THE HOLY QUR’AAN

Among the many Ahadith mentioning the seven forms of the Qur’aan, the following is part of a Hadith recorded in Sahihul Bukhaari:

“Verily, this Qur’aan was revealed in seven forms. Therefore, recite according to whichever form is simple of it.”

In terms of the clear statements of Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) Allah Ta’ala has permitted the Qur’aan to be recited in seven ways. In Manaahilul Irfaan, Vol. I, a narration reads that Hadhrat Jibraeel (alayhis salaam) informed Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam):

“Allah Ta’ala has ordered that your Ummah recite the Qur’aan in seven ways. Therefore, recitation in accordance with any one of these (seven) ways is correct.”

What is the meaning of SABA’AT-E-AHRUF (Seven Letters)? The authoritative Ulama of Islam have explained the meaning of the seven forms of recitation in detail. According to these authorities of Islam the revealed seven forms of Qira’at differ in seven ways. These differences among the revealed forms or “variant readings” are as follows:

1. Difference in the nouns in regard to singular, plural, masculine and feminine. Example: One Qira’at has “tammat kalimatu rabbika”. Whereas another Qira’at state: “tammat kalimaatu rabbika”.

2. Differences of verbs with regard to the tense, eg. One Qira’at records “rabbanaa baa-Id bayna asfaarinaa”, while another form of Recitation is “rabbanaa b’A’dda bayna asfaarinaa”

3. Differences in I’raab (Diacritical Signs), e.g. according to one Qira’at “laa yuDaarru kaatibun”; while another Qira’at states: “laa yuDaarra kaatibun”. Again, one Qira’at records “dhul-Arshil majeedi”; while another Qira’at proclaims “dhul-Arshil majeedu”.

4. Differences of word placement. In certain forms of Qira’at a word may appear posterior to another word in another Qira’at, “wa jaa-at sakratul-mauti bil-haqqi” and again anterior in yet another Qira’at. Example: “wa jaa-at sakratul-haqqi bil-mauti”.

5. Differences in the number of words. One form of Qira’at may have a word more than another Qira’at. Example: “tajree min taHtihal-anhaaru” and “tajree taHtihal-anhaaru”.

6. Substitution of words. A particular word in one Qira’at may be substituted with another word in another Qira’at, e.g. “nunshizuhaa” and “nanshuzuhaa”.

7. Differences in Lahjah (tone of voice – accentuation). All the various qualities and rules of Tajweed come within the scope of differences in Lahjah. Example: in one Qira’at is recited moosaa”; in another Qira’at “moosaa’”

The above explanation totally neutralizes the charge of interpolation brought by Gilchrist against the Qur’aan-e-Hakeem. The “variant readings” which Gilchrist has tendered in substantiation of his claim are in fact integral parts of the Qur’aan. They are revealed forms of Qira’at. Thus, the form of Ubay Bin Ka’b (Radiallahu anhu) and the way of Abdullah Bin Mas’ud (Radiallahu anhu) were not their own innovation, nor any new style introduced by anyone. Their forms of recitation which the people of Shaam and Iraq had adopted were among the Sab’at-e-Ahruf.

Another fact of great significance is that the variation – the revealed forms – in the forms of Qira’at does not create differences in the meanings of the Qur’aan Shareef.

In the beginning, because people were not generally acquainted with the style of the Qur’aan, permission was granted to recite according to any form of Qira’at. This concession and permission applied to the time of Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and the period immediately attendant to his demise. By “any form of Qira’at” means recitation within the confines of the Sab’at-e-Ahruf.

It was the practice of Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) to recite the entire Qur’aan once during the month of Ramadhan in the presence of Jibraeel (alayhis salaam). During the year of his demise, he recited the Qur’aan Majeed twice in the presence of Hadhrat Jibraeel (alayhis salaam). This last recitation is known as Arsah Akheerah. On this occasion many of the Qira’at forms were abrogated. Only those forms of Qira’at were retained which have been preserved to this day by way of Tawaatur Transmission (i.e. being narrated en masse from generation to generation by way of unbroken chains of authoritative transmission).

During his reign, Hadhrat Uthmaan (radhiallahu anhu) had seven copies of the Qur’aan Majeed compiled. In these seven copies all forms of Qira’at were conglomerated by deletion of the diacritical signs and points or dots (nikaat). The majority of the authorized forms of Qira’at was therefore incorporated into this Rasmul Khat (Mode of Writing) of the Qur’aan-e-Hakeem. Those forms of recitation which could not be incorporated into this Rasmul Khat were preserved in separated manuscripts. Hadhrat Uthmaan (Radiallahu anhu) ordered that a separated compilation be made for each form of Qira’at not contained in the Rasmul Khat of the initial seven copies.

The Ummah of Islam expended the greatest effort to learn, memorize and preserve the various forms of Qira’at (the “variant readings” mentioned by Gilchrist) so ably compiled and recorded by Hadhrat Uthmaan (Radiallahu anhu). It was a direct result of this great and grand endeavor of the Ummah that the Knowledge of Qira’at developed into a well-established and independent science. Hundreds of Ulama and Huffaaz devoted their entire lives to the preservation of this science of Qira’at.

The very first step in this field was the momentous action instituted by Hadhrat Uthmaan (Radiallahu anhu) in the formulation of this science. With each compilation of the seven copies of the Qur’aan which he sent to different parts of the Islamic Empire, Hadhrat Uthmaan (Radiallahu anhu) despatched a qualified Qaari to impart the knowledge of Qira’at to others. These masters of Qira’at instructed people in the respective territories allocated to them, according to the form of recitation in which they specialized. The various forms of recitation were therefore disseminated extensively.

The principle which has been universally accepted by the entire Ummah, right from the time of the Sahaabah was the fact that the Qira’at had to be proven to be a form of recitation of Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam). The authenticity of the Qira’at had to be accredited by the Aimmah (Masters) of Qira’at. It is, therefore, abundantly clear that the “variant readings” were not and are not accretions to the Qur’aan Shareef, but all were accredited forms of Qira’at revealed to Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam).

To prove his contention of the Qur’aan having “suffered” additions and variations, it is essential that Gilchrist present evidence of such variations which have not been accredited by the Sahaabah – in other words, he must prove that the “variant readings” about which he speaks were not revealed to Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam). And, in the process of furnishing such evidence, he must resort to the Ahaadith since he has chosen the Hadith narrations to disprove the authenticity of the Qur’aan Majeed.

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