The Various Readings

The Various Readings

Al-qira'a (pl. qiraa'at) is derived from the word qara'a, 'reading, reciting'; from which also the word Qur'an is derived. It is a verbal noun, meaning recitation. In technical language it describes the oral recitation of the Qur'an as well as the punctuation of the written text, which corresponds to the oral recitation.

Examples:

Mawdudi [Introduction to the Study of the Qur’an, Delhi, 1971, p.21.] has very convincingly explained the proper understanding of some accepted difference in reading. He wrote that in al-fatiha (1: 3):

 
  • maliki
  • mâliki
} both describe one of the attributes of Allah, and there is absolutely no contradiction between 'sovereign' and 'master' of the day of judgement, but 'these two readings make the meaning of the verse all the more clear'.
 

Similarly 5:8 arjulakum [Reading of Nafi, Hafs 'an Asim, Kisa'i.] and arjulikum [Reading of Ibn Kathir, Abu Amr, Abu Bakra 'an 'Asim, Hamza.] carry two meanings:

  • Wash
  • Wipe
} your feet

 

 

Both are indeed correct, for under normal circumstances a man will wash his feet, while some other person e.g. a traveller may wipe them. Here the text of the Qur'an carries both meanings at the same time. This is indeed a unique feature of the revelation from Allah.

Readers among the Sababa

Reading and reciting of the Qur'an has been done since revelation began, and the Prophet was the first to recite. This has already been discussed in the section on transmission of the text. After his death, the recitation continued through his Companions. Among the famous readers from whom many of the tabi'un learned, were Ubay bin Ka'b, 'Ali, Zaid bin Tbabit, Ibn Mas'ud, Abu Musa al-Ash'ari and many others.

Later Development

Later on, with Muslims settling in many parts of the world, the Qur'an was recited in a variety of ways, some of which were not in accordance with the accepted text and the transmitted readings from the Prophet and the Companions. This necessitated a thorough screening and distinction between what is sahih (sound) and what is shadh (exceptional).

The Seven Readings

The 'seven readings' were standardised in the second/eighth century. Ibn Mujahid, a ninth-century Muslim scholar, wrote a book entitled The Seven Readings, in which he selected seven of the prevailing modes of recitation as the best transmitted and most reliable. Others were subsequently disfavoured and even opposed, among them the readings of Ibn Mas'ud and 'Ubay bin Ka'b. However, this is not to say that one must restrict oneself to one of these seven readings, or to all of them. Below are listed the local origin of the seven readings and the names of readers [For their short biographies see Fihrist ,I, p. 63ff.] and some transmitters (rawis) connected with them:

Place Reader Transmitter
     
  1. Madina
Nafi' (169/785) Warsh (197/812)
  1. Makka
Ibn Kathir (120/737)  
  1. Damascus
Ibn 'Amir (118/736)  
  1. Basra
Abu 'Amr (148/770)  
  1. Kufa
'Asim (127/744) Hafs (180/796)
  1. Kufa
Hamza (156/772)  
  1. Kufa
Al-Kisa'i (189/804) Duri (246/860)

 

Readings No. 1 and 5 are of particular importance: the reading transmitted by Warsh is widespread in Africa, except Egypt, where, as now in almost all other parts of the Muslim world, the reading transmitted by Hafs is observed.

Other Views

Later on other views emerged, making ten or fourteen well-known readings. In addition to the seven above, the following make up the ten and the fourteen readers:

Place Reader Transmitter
     
  1. Madina
Abu Ja'far (130/747)  
  1. Basra
Ya'qub (205/820)  
  1. Kufa
Khalaf (229/843)  
  1. Basra
Hasan al Basri (110/728)  
  1. Makka
Ibn Muhaisin (123/740)  
  1. Basra
Yahya al-Yazidi (202/817)  
  1. Kufa
al-A'mash (148/765)

The readings are also divided as follows: [Suyuti, Itqan, I, p 77]

  • The mutawatir (transmitted by many; they include the seven well-known readings).

  • The ahad (transmitted by one; they number three, going back to the sahaba and together with the seven make up the ten).

  • The shadh (exceptional; they go back to the tabi'un only).

Muslim scholars have laid down three criteria for the acceptance of any qira'a and three criteria for preferring some over others. The best transmission was of course mutawatir. The three criteria for acceptance of other readings are:

  • Correctness according to Arabic grammar.

  • Agreement with the written text of 'Uthman.

  • Traced back reliably to the Prophet.

The three criteria for preference are:

  • Correctness according to Arabic grammar.

  • Agreement with the written text of 'Uthman.

  • Reported/preferred by many (majority).

Summary

The best summary on this topic is perhaps contained in the words of the scholar Abu-l-Khair bin al-Jazari (d.833/1429), who wrote:

 'Every reading in accordance with Arabic (grammar) even if (only) in some way, and in accordance with one of the masahif of 'Uthman, even if (only) probable, and with sound chain of transmission, is a correct (sahih) reading, which must not be rejected, and may not be denied, but it belongs to the seven modes (ahruf) according to which the Qur'an was revealed, and the people are obliged to accept it, no matter whether it is from the seven Imams, or the ten or from other accepted Imams, but when one of these three conditions is not fulfilled, it must be rejected as weak (daif) or exceptional (shadh) or void (batil), no matter whether it is from the seven or from one who is older than them.' [Suyuti, Itqan, I, p.75 ]