Chapter 3: The Qur'an in Manuscript and Print
Writing, although not very widespread in pre-Islamic time, was well-known among the Arabs. The script used in the seventh century, i. e . during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, consisted of very basic symbols, which expressed only the consonantal structure of a word, and even that with much ambiguity.
While today letters such as ba, ta, tha, ya, are easily distinguished by points, this was not so in the early days and all these letters used to be written simply as a straight line.
From this very basic system of writing there developed over the ages, various types of script, such as Kufi, Maghribi, Naskh, etc., which spread all over the world.
The later invention of printing with standardised types has contributed to formalising the writing.
However, as far as the actual script of the Qur'an is concerned, there were two important steps which brought about the forms in which we have the Qur'anic text as it is today. These were the introduction of:
- Vowelling marks (tashkil).
- Diacritical marks (i'jam).
Tashkil is the name for the signs indicating the vowels in Arabic scripts. They were apparently unknown in pre-lslamic times. These signs help to determine the correct pronunciation of the word and to avoid mistakes.
When more and more Muslims of non-Arab origin and also many ignorant Arabs' [Yaqut reports in his book irshad that al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf himself once read ahabba in 9: 24 wrongly as ahabbu, see GdQ. 111, 124, note 6.] studied the Qur'an, faulty pronunciation and wrong readings began to increase. It is related that at the time of Du'all (d. 69H/638) someone in Basra read the following aya from the Qur'an in a faulty way, which changed the meaning completely: :
That God and His apostle dissolve obligations with the pagans' (9: 3).
'That God dissolves obligations with the pagans and the apostle.'
The mistake occurred through wrongly reading rasulihi in place of rasuluhu, which could not be distinguished from the written text, because there were no signs or accents indicating the correct pronunciation. Unless someone had memorised the correct version he could out of ignorance easily commit such a mistake. [See also fihrist, 1, pp. 87-8.] The signs or accents to prevent such problems were introduced not long before the i'jam and then got the shape they have to this day: [Hughes,T.P.: A Dictionary of Islam London,1895 p.687.]
For an example of the old style see plate 5.
It has been suggested that the origin of fatha is alif, the origin of kasra is ya (without dots as in early books), and the origin of damma is waw. Hamza was previously written as 2 dots. [Abbott, N.: The Rise of the North-Arabic Script and its Koranic Development, Chicago, 1939, p. 39]
I'jam (to provide a letter with a diacritical point)
The Arabic letters, as we know them today, are made up of lines and points. The latter are called i'jam. The ancient Arabic script did not have them, but consisted of strokes only.
The addition of diacritical points to the plain writing of strokes helped to distinguish the various letters which could be easily mixed up.
Example: XXX XXX
Without dots this word cannot be easily recognised. With i'jam, the letters of this word can easily be distinguished.
Although the i'jam (diacritical points) were already known in pre-Islamic times, they were rarely used. The very early copies of the Qur'anic manuscripts (and Arabic writing in general) did not have these signs. They were apparently introduced into the Qur'anic script during the time of the fifth Umayyad Caliph, 'Abd al-Malik bin Marwan (66-86H/685-705) and the governorship of Al-Hajjaj in Iraq, when more and more Muslims began to read and study the Qur'an, some of whom did not know much of the Qur'an, and others were of non-Arab origin. It is said of the well-known tabi'l Al-Du'all that he was the first to introduce these points into the Qur'anic text.