On the Different Readings of the Quran

Question and answer details
As-Salamu `Alaykum. I have some related questions about the Quran and its preservation. When God tells us that He will preserve the Book (the Quran 15:9) does it mean that not even a single letter of the Quran will be changed? I used to think so but not anymore. I heard about the different Ahruf and the different Qira'at (variations of recitation) but haven't read about them. I heard that the Mushaf of Warsh bin Nafi' doesn't contain verse 42:3. However, when I opened an online version of it, it contained it! Then, I got more  confused. I  have already memorized verse 42:5 from the "regular" Quran that we all have but it was different from that in Warsh Mushaf. In the "regular" Quran it states "Takadus-Samawatu..." with a "Ta'" while in Warsh Mushaf it states "Yakadus-Samawatu..." with a "Ya'" and I think if I look carefully I will find more of these discrepancies. To sum up the questions I have: 1) To what extent does verse 15:9 go? 2) What are the different Ahruf and different Qira'at? 3) Does the Mushaf of Warsh bin Nafi' contain 42:3 or not? If it doesn't contain it then how can we say that such a verse exists for sure? 4) Why the "Ya'" is in Warsh instead of the "Ta'" in the regular Quran in verse 42:5 as I mentioned above? And if there are more of these discrepancies, then how do you explain this phenomenon? If this is the case then what is the point of memorizing the Quran? I can be more than certain that the missionaries will not overlook this and will surely use it against Muslims to claim that the Quran has been changed. Jazakum Allahu Khayran.
Ahmad Saad
Salam Rawa,

I would like to thank you for this very interesting and meaningful question that will enable me to fulfill some rights of the Quran upon me. As it is  obvious from your question, you are very much concerned about the Quran and let me assure you as the Quran  has always been and will continue to be preserved by Almighty Allah. Let me tell you the story from the very beginning.

When Almighty Allah revealed the to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) he commanded him to spread it and teach it to people. Being revealed in a nation the vast majority of its members are unlettered, I mean they could not read or write and they lived within their tribal dialectical variations of Arabic. It would have been reasonably difficult if the Quran  had been revealed in one dialectal version only.

If it was to be revealed only in the dialect of Quraish, it would have become very local and very difficult for other people. Moreover, being a miracle in its own right, the Quran carries various aspects of miraculousness, one of which is catering for humungous number of meanings while still being in one text.

It was because of these two reasons and other ones that Almighty Allah revealed the Quran in the Seven Ahruf (variant ways of reading) to suit these elderly and unlettered Arabs who had grown in their locality and were not familiar with the language of Quraish and  could not start learning it.

Therefore, by being revealed in their dialect, they would have access to the Quranic text and could easily memorize it. It was also revealed in such a way that it carries all possible meanings and give richness to the text.

Because of this, we read the hadith narrated by Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) that goes:

"I heard Hisham b. Hakim reciting Surat Al-Furqan during the lifetime of the Prophet.. When I listened attentively to his recitation I noticed that he  was reading many huruf (words in variant ways) which I did not receive from the Prophet, so I was about to interrupt him in prayer, but I preferred to wait until he finished and then I caught his clothes or he held me  by my clothes and I said, ‘who taught you this surah', ‘The Messenger of Allah taught me', he replied. I said, ‘You are lying, for by Allah, the Messenger of Allah taught me this surah which I have heard you  recite.' I took him to the Prophet and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, I have heard this man reciting Surat Al-Furqan in a way different from the way you have taught me, and you are the one who taught me.' The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Leave him Umar, Recite O Hisham.' He recited the same way I heard him do. The Prophet said: ‘This is how it was revealed; this Quran was revealed on Seven Ahruf, so recite what you can from it."

When you come to know that the Arabic text at the time of the Prophet  and later during the time of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman (I mean when the Quran was put into one volume) was devoid of any dots and diatrical signs, you can appreciate the fact that such a text could carry more than one variant recitation.

Some letters even like taa and saad and daad were very much the same in shape but of course different phonetically. The Companions received these variant Ahruf from the Prophet, preserved them and transmitted them as accurate as they  had learnt them.

When Uthman ibn Affan compiled the Quranic scriptures into one volume and made various copies of it, he kept the same practice and accommodated the seven ahruf in the various Quranic copies he made.

Sometimes, some ahruf could not be accommodated in one copy and therefore, he made another copy and accommodated them. After being sent to the various parts of the Muslim homeland, the residents of each province started to learn from the copy they  had got alongside with the Companions and the Successors who dedicated their lives for teaching the Quran to people as they learnt it from the mouth of the Prophet.

In the course of time, ten great scholars who lived in the central cities of the Muslim world and specialized in learning and teaching the they became real authorities in it, and  diatrical their recitations of the Quran were chosen to be written down in books and comparative studies started to emerge, highlighting the beauty of the text through these qira'at. Such was the emergence of the science of Qira'at (variant ways of reciting the Quranic text).

As explained earlier, these scholars were chosen for various reasons:

1. They were known for being the most excellent students of the Prophet's Companions and the successors.

2. Each was an authority in their specialization and people used to recourse to them for knowledge.

3. Their recitations were known to be authentic and in compliance with the Quranic text.

4. The introduction of the dots and diatrical marks, which was based completely on authentic narration from earlier generations, showed that their recitations are authentic and  acceptable.

These great ten scholars were referred to later on as Al-Qurra Al-`Ashr (The Ten Reciters) and their variant ways of recitation which, of course, go back through unbroken chain to the Prophet  are referred to as The Ten Qira'at.

Here is a list of these reciters along with the most famous and authentic two narrators of each:

1. In Madina: Nafi` and his narrators: Warsh and Qalun

2. In Makkah: Ibn Kathir (other than the scholar of tafsir) and his narrators Qunbul and Al-Bazzi

3. In Basrah: Abu Amr and his narrators Al-Duri and Al-Susi

4. In the Levant: Ibn Amir and his narrators Hisham and Ibn Zakwan

5. In Kuffah: Asim and his narrators Shubah and Hafs

6. In Kuffah: Hamza and his narrators Khalaf and Khallad

7. In Kuffah: Al-Kisa'i and his narrators Abu Al-Harith and Al-Duri

8. In Madinah: Abu Jafar and his narrators Ibn Wardan and Ibn Jammaz

9. In Basrah: Yakoub Al-Hadrami and his narrators Ruways and Rauh

10. In Kuffa: Khalaf and his narrators Ishaq and Idris.

A quick look into these ten recitations will show us that they do not differ in removing verses from the Quran or words; rather, they differ in dots, diatrical marks, some small letters that do not affect the meaning and that are accommodated actually by the text.

In fact, they show the richness of the Quran and are all supported by the linguistic validity. The scholars of the science of Qira'at later on informed us that three criteria have been put to verify the authenticity of Qira'at:

1. It has to be in compliance with the rules of Arabic language.

2. It has to be accommodated by the Quranic text, I mean the one written at Prophet's time.

3. It has to be handed down to us with unbroken chain of authentic narrators.

All the ten Qira'at comply with these qualifications and are in fact an evidence that Allah has preserved the Quran; not only in letters and sounds, but in its variant ahruf as well, since all these ahruf are accommodated in the ten Qira'at.

By the grace of Allah, the Quran in its various Qira'at is memorised by specialists in the science of Qira'at who learn it from their teachers and get Ijazah (certificate of authenticity to teach) with unbroken chain to the Prophet.

Some people, memorise it only according to the narration of Hafs from Asim, which has become the most common one in the Muslim world along with Warsh from Nafi` which is common in Morocco, North Africa and some other countries an Qalun from Nafi` which is common in Libya and some countries as well.

Yet, there are thousands who fulfil their duty towards the Quran by specialising in its various recitations, learning its ahruf and honouring their life by preserving it through specializing in the Qira'at. Some may finish seven Qira'at and some may go further to finish the ten.

Yet, at the end of the day, the Quran is the Quran; it is the same preserved Divine Book. Its Ahruf were revealed from Allah and preserving them is part of preserving it. They add to the richness of the text, help understand it, give clues to Muslim jurists to deduce Fiqh rulings based on such variations and add to the flexibility and the vitality of this great religion.

I advise you to research this subject, speak to a specialist in the science of Qira'at and read some books written on this topic as such a limited space as here cannot be enough to explain everything.

I hope this answers your questions. Please keep in touch.


Useful Links:

What Is the Quran?

A Different Quran?

The Original Quran and the Discovery of Makkah

Is the Quran Outdated?

How Does Allah Protect the Quran and Islam

How Were the Quran and the Bible Compiled?

Could the Quran Be a Copy of the Bible?

Proving the Quran Is the Word of God

The Quranic Sequence… Preserving Intactness

Has the Quran Changed?