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Dr. Shabir Ally addresses this question in the video below:
Aisha Khaja: Dr. Shabir, there is a saying that, of the Prophet Muhammad, that the Quran was revealed in seven different ways. Can you elaborate a little bit on this question, or rather answer?
Dr. Shabir Ally: Yeah, sure, nowadays, when we write a book, we write a book with this one version and then it’s published widely.
But that’s not always the case. You may have a UK version and the US version because words are spelled differently in the UK than they are in America and Canada.
And sometimes the Canadian spelling agrees with the UK spelling. And so, we have different combinations. You can also have performances that are done differently.
A song may be, you may have like a written transcript of the song, the lyrics. And yet, the actual performance could actually be different onstage and different from one performance to the other.
Now in the case of the Quran, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was delivering this orally, and it had to be ingested by his community. And many of them spoke different varieties of the Arabic language.
So, it, in some ways, it had to be translated from Arabic to Arabic before it gets from Arabic to English. So, in that context, the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave latitude to his companions to recite the Quran in a variety of Arabic dialects.
And also, sometimes to substitute meaning for meaning even within the same dialect, thus allowing for the Quran’s meaning to be understood and absorbed and applied very quickly so that people did not need to stumble over how precisely do we recite this.
Because that was not the initial need. That is a need now because we need to know precisely what are the words before we start interpreting them in the wrong way. But in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), people needed to know the meaning and the application first.
And so, there was more focus on that and less on the precise wording.
So, it is reported that some of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) read the same thing, but sometimes in a different word order, and sometimes by substituting a word with the same meaning, replacing a word from the Quranic text as it was being recited by the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Aisha Khaja: So, Dr. Shabir, how does that relate to the seven readings?
Dr. Shabir Ally: The seven readings that we have now, even ten readings according to many scholars, capture some of that variety that was allowed in the early days of the Quranic revelation. So, we have, like you can say, one main text and it’s given to us in a variety of minor variations from one reading to another.
I hope this helps answer your question. Please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:
Two Phases of Quran Revelation: What Differences?
Transmission of the Quran Written Text