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The Diacritical Signs in the Qur’aan


On page 2 of his brochure, Gilchrist asserts:

“… and yet the history of the Qur’aan text shows that diacritical points distinguishing the Arabic consonants and the relative vowel points were only introduced at least two hundred years after Muhammad’s death. The earliest Qur’aans, in kufic and other scripts, all had only seventeen consonants (whereas the Arabic letters distinguished by diacritical points etc. today number twenty-nine) and none were accompanied by vowel points.”

It is abundantly clear from the above line of reasoning adopted by Gilchrist that he is totally in the dark regarding the claim which Islam makes in relation to the Qur’aan. By the QUR’AAN is meant the REVELATION to Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam). The Qur’aan is that Speech of Allah Ta’ala which was revealed to Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam). And, it is our claim that the very Speech revealed to Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) – known as the Qur’aan – is intact to this day. It has not suffered the slightest bit of alteration. The Qur’aan as recited in this day is EXACTLY the Qur’aan which was recited by Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam).

It is a self-evident fact that the Qur’aan was not revealed in the written form. The Divine Revelation was transmitted verbally by Rasulullah (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) to the Sahaabah. The insertion of diacritical points is exactly in the same category as the insertion of the letters of the Arabic alphabet. Like the letters of the Arabic alphabet (i.e. the written characters) produce the sounds and pronunciations of the Speech of the Revelation, so too, do the diacritical points and signs. The diacritical points and signs are in a similar category as the written representatives of the Arabic letters, viz, the Huroof. These Huroof in the first instance or in actual fact are pronunciations, not written forms. The written forms merely represent the actual sounds produced by the “letters”, the Huroof.

If a verbal statement is committed to writing and the form of the writing is such as to produce exactly the same statement which was spoken – not the meaning of the statement, but the actual words spoken – then such writing can by no stretch of intelligent reasoning be interpreted as an addition or a change to the spoken words. Yes, if in the written words such a change has been introduced to bring about a variation between the spoken statement and the written statement, then undoubtedly, the claim of alteration will be valid. But, in the total absence of any variation between the spoken words and the written words, the claim of alteration is unfounded and absurd.

In the Qur’aanic Revelation, not only diacritical signs and points were absent, even written consonants representing the sounds of the consonant letters were absent since the Qur’aan was not revealed in written characters. Thus, if Gilchrist insists that the inclusion of diacritical signs and vowel points represents alteration in the Qur’aan, then in terms of the same line of reasoning he will have to expand his denial of the Qur’aan’s authenticity by claiming that the Qur’aan in the written form – even the supposedly “only seventeen consonants” represent change and addition to the original Qur’aan revealed to Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam). But, the absurdity of such a claim is manifest.

It has never been claimed by Muslims that the exactness and precision of the Qur’aan in circulation today to that of the Revealed Qur’aan incorporate the tangible or material component parts of the Book such as the physical pages, the ink, the lines drawn in the Book, the calligraphic inscriptions, the decoration, etc. The exactness of the Qur’aan Shareef in circulation today compares with the exactness of the Revelation with great precision.

Thus, the Qur’aanic words which are recited today by the Ummah of Islam are the exact and precise words which were revealed to Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam), and the exactness which we are contending refers not only to recital, but to content matter as well, i.e. the whole of the revealed Qur’aan excluding the Mansukhut Tilaawah (abrogated recital) Aayaat (abrogated by Allah Ta’ala Himself, not by any follower of Islam). This aspect will be discussed later in greater detail.

The appearance of diacritical signs and points (fathah, kasrah, dhammah, jazm, etc.) is similar to the appearance of the alphabetical letters (the Huroof) in the written text of the Qur’aan–e–Hakeem. Just as written letters are non-existent in the Qur’aanic Wahi (Revelation) so too are diacritical points and signs absent. Just as alphabetical letters are employed to produce sound and pronunciation, so too are diacritical signs and points utilized in the Qur’aanic written text to produce sound and pronunciation.

The Arabic Huroof (alphabetical letters) are mere symbols or characters used to represent sound and the diacritical signs, in the same way, are symbols or characters which represent the vowel sounds. In having inserted diacritical signs in the written text, no new sound or new word or new phrase has been added to the Qur’aan. The recited word in Arabic is exactly the same whether diacritical signs and points are included or excluded from the text.

The diacritical signs and points are merely part of a system of handwriting which represent the original uttered or verbal statement. A Haafiz reciting the Qur’aan from memory recites in exactly the same way as a person who recites from the text observing the diacritical signs and points. There is absolutely no difference in the actual recital which is what the actual Qur’aan is. The original form of the Qur’aan Shareef is verbal recital, not written characters which merely are representative of the actual revealed and verbal Qur’aan.

A statement taken down in stenography (any system of short-hand writing) is not an addition or interpolation of the original statement. When the statement recorded in shorthand is read or recited it will compare in exactness to the original verbal expression. Therefore, the claim that the diacritical signs and points represent an addition to the Qur’aan is utterly nonsensical.

If the diacritical signs and points produced any variation in the recital of the Qur’aan or if thereby a new word, letter or phrase was introduced into the text, then Gilchrist would have had a valid argument. But, since not a single new letter has been introduced by these signs and points, the fallacy of Gilchrist’s argument is manifest.

In written Arabic, the diacritical signs and points are not normally inserted. These signs have been inserted only to facilitate correct recitation by non-Arabic speaking Muslims, just as the entire Revealed Qur’aan has been inserted between two covers on pages, in the written form, to facilitate authentic preservation. The purpose of such signs is merely to ensure that the written text is recited in exactly the same way as the revealed Words of the Qur’aan. The charge of interpolation or addition is therefore absurd.

How can the diacritical points and signs be interpreted as an addition when their only function is to enable and ensure exactness and correctness of recitation? By what stretch of imagination and line of reasoning can it be honestly claimed that these signs are additions to the Qur’aan when they merely uphold the exactness of the Revealed Qur’aan? How can any sensible man argue that such signs and symbols are additions to the Qur’aan when they produce not the slightest variation in the recitation of the Qur’aan?

To sum up: the diacritical signs are only symbols which represent the vowel sounds in the same way as the other characters of the Arabic alphabet are symbols representing the consonant sounds. The non-appearance of the diacritical signs in early written texts of the Qur’aan was merely in line with the style of Arabic writing which omits the vowel ‘sounds’ in the written text, but not in the spoken words.


Gilchrist asserts:

The earliest Qur’aans, in kufic and other scripts all had only seventeen consonants (whereas the Arabic letters distinguished by diacritical points, etc., today number twenty-nine) and none were accompanied by vowel points.”

This statement seeks to convey the impression that the Arabic language in which the Qur’aan Shareef was revealed consisted of only seventeen consonants and no vowels and that the vowels were later accretions. By implication the reader is asked to form the conclusion that since the vowels and even further consonants were incorporated into the Arabic language centuries after the revelation of the Qur’aan, new phonetic sounds were introduced into the Arabic language. Since such “new phonetic sounds” represented by the diacritical signs and points, etc, are employed in the Qur’aanic written text, it has to follow that the Qur’aan in circulation today cannot be exactly the same as the revealed words of the Qur’aan which descended to Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam). An ignoramus and a person not versed with the Arabic language will swallow such drivel and baseless assumptions which are nothing but false.

The Arabic language always had the same number of letters i.e. actual letters, the sounds and the pronunciations. The idea that an extra 12 letters were incorporated into the Arabic language centuries after the revelation of the Qur’aan-e-Kareem is blatantly false. It has already been explained earlier that the actual and the original way of writing Arabic is without the diacritical points and signs which represent the vowel sounds and some other consonants. But, while the verbal statements may be reduced to the written form with characters which all seem to amount to only “seventeen consonants”, the conclusion that there were only seventeen consonants in the Arabic language of the early days is erroneous.

This erroneous conclusion stems from being ignorant of the Arabic language. Those versified with Arabic will not read the written statement with only seventeen consonants. The diacritical points and distinguishing dots will be employed mentally to produce the correct vowel and consonant sounds. But, one ignorant of Arabic will labour under the false notion that there are only “seventeen consonants” – no vowels and no other consonants other than those understood by Gilchrist.

For example if the ب (Baa), ت (Taa) and ث (Thaa) are written without their respective distinguishing dots, it does not follow that the ں is neither a Baa, nor Taa nor Thaa. In the same way it does not follow that the absence of dots has reduced the number of consonants. It was only expected of the Arabs to recite correctly. Their mastery over their language enabled them to distinguish the various letters and to include the correct vowel sounds without the external aid of diacritical points, signs and dots which were introduced for the prime purpose of assisting non-Arabic-speaking people to recite the Qur’aan in exactly the same way as the Revealed Words.

The introduction of additional symbols to distinguish the consonants and to indicate the correct position of the vowel sounds in no way constitutes an addition to the Qur’aan since such distinguishing marks and dots do not result in the introduction of additional sounds, letters or words. Since no variation whatsoever is wrought in the recital of the Revealed Qur’aan by the inclusion of these distinguishing dots and symbols, the claim of addition to the Qur’aan advanced by Gilchrist is false.


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