Why are There 7 Modes of Reciting the Quran?

05 June, 2020
Q Assalamu'alaikum, dear scholar. I have learned that the Qur'an was sent down in seven ahruf (manners), similiar to dialects which we have even in the English language. But since the time of Uthman Ibn Affan, we only have the Quraisyi dialect of the Qur'an. Even so, we still have many different recitations. Can you explain the differences between these recitations? Also, I have also heard that before the standardization of the Qur'an, there were some words that differ in one dialect and another, so there were synonyms used. But were these synonyms okay? Because even if they have the same meaning, it's not fully 100% the Word of God anymore. Were these synonyms green-lighted by Allah? I would also really appreciate it if you point to me the history behind the compilation of the Qur'an as well. Thank you very much.

Answer

Short Answer:

  • Ibn Mujahid is the one who enumerated seven acceptable modes of recitation in his book Kitab Al-Sab` fi al-Qira’at. He picked one reader for every major center of the Muslim world (Makkah- Ibn Kathir, Damascus – Ibn Amir, Basrah – Abu Amr, Madinah- Nafi`). From Kufa, he chose three readers Asim, Hamzah, and Al-Kisa’i.
  • With the passage of time, Islam spread to distant places and disputes began to arise regarding these different readings. This state of confusion led the Caliph Uthman ibn Affan to compile and distribute a copy of the Quran to put an end to these debates over the different readings of the Quran. 

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Salam dear questioner,

Thank you for your question.

What is the Quran?

Muslims believe that Quran is the literal word of God and the final revelation to humanity. Muslims also believe that the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) via Angel Gabriel over a period of twenty-three years. Muslims believe that the Quran is a book of guidance not a historical book. 

An Arabic Quran

Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed over fourteen hundred years ago in Arabic. We read in the Quran what means:

*{This is certainly a revelation from the Lord of all worlds, which the trustworthy spirit (Gabriel) brought down into your heart (O Prophet)—so that you may be one of the warners— in a clear Arabic tongue.}* (Quran 26:192-196)

One Style in the Beginning

Suppport AboutIslam.net

Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed in one unique style in the beginning. Ibn Abbas narrated that the Allah’s Messenger said, “Gabriel read the Quran to me in one way (i.e. dialect) and I continued asking him to read it in different ways till he read it in seven different ways.” 

Why are There 7 Modes of Reciting the Quran?

The best definition of Seven Ahruf given by specialists in the area of Quranic studies is that they are the seven modes or ways of recitation.

Simply put, there are two types of words in the Quran; words that can only be read one way and words that can be read in different ways.

The first type of words constitutes the major part of the Quran and the second type constitutes the basis of what is known as qira’at (modes of recitation).

The differences between the modes of recitations are not a matter of opposition or contradiction. They are like synonymous. Ibn Masud confirmed this concept when he said: “It is like saying ‘Come Here’ in different ways. One can say halumma or aqbil or ta`al.” 

All these readings are in agreement with the codex of the Quran compiled upon a recommendation of Uthman ibn Affan which was written without diacritics to accommodate these variations. 

Where Do These Differences Come From? 

Early Muslims were of all backgrounds, young and old, those who mastered Arabic and those who didn’t.

Muslims were also from different Arab tribes with different accents and dialects. During the Prophet’s lifetime, learning the Quran was the only means by which the essential message of Islam was learned, practiced and transmitted.

Therefore, it was very important to facilitate the process of learning the Quran for different people from different backgrounds. Thus, the Quran was recited in different ways during the Prophet’s lifetime. 

Ubayy bin Ka`b narrated that “The Messenger of Allah met Gabriel and said:

‘O Gabriel! I have been sent to an illiterate nation among whom are the elderly woman, the old man, the boy and the girl, and the man who cannot read a book at all.’ He said: ‘O Muhammad! Indeed, the Quran was revealed in seven modes.'” (At-Tirmidhi)

The following narration explains the phenomenon of reading the Quran in different ways during the Prophet’s lifetime: 

Umar bin Khattab narrated:

I heard Hisham ibn Hakim ibn Hizam reciting Surat-al-Furqan during the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger, and I listened to his recitation and noticed that he recited it in several ways which Allah’s Messenger had not taught me. So, I was on the point of attacking him in the prayer, but I waited till he finished his prayer, and then I seized him by the collar and said, “Who taught you this Surah which I have heard you reciting?” He replied, “Allah’s Messenger taught it to me.” I said, “You are telling a lie; By Allah! Allah’s Messenger taught me (in a different way) this very Surah which I have heard you reciting.” So, I took him, leading him to Allah’s Messenger and said, “O Allah’s Messenger! I heard this person reciting Surat-al-Furqan in a way that you did not teach me, and you have taught me Surat-al-Furqan.” The Prophet said, “O Hisham, recite!” So, he recited in the same way as I heard him recite it before. On that Allah’s Messenger said, “It was revealed to be recited in this way.” Then Allah’s Messenger said, “Recite, O Umar!” So, I recited it as he had taught me. Allah’s Messenger then said, “It was revealed to be recited in this way.” Allah’s Messenger added, “The Quran has been revealed to be recited in several different ways, so recite of it that which is easier for you.” (Al-Bukhari)

The Collection of the Quran by Uthman

During the lifetime of the Companions, there were differences in the way they recited the Quran because the Prophet taught them these different readings.

Later the Prophet sent the Companions to different places to teach the Quran in these different ways.

With the passage of time, Islam spread to distant places and disputes began to arise regarding these different readings.

This state of confusion led the Caliph Uthman ibn Affan to compile and distribute a copy of the Quran to put an end to these debates over the different readings of the Quran. 

Anas ibn Malik narrated:

Hudhaifah ibn Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifah was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Quran, so he said to Uthman, “O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before.” So Uthman sent a message to Hafsah saying, “Send us the manuscripts of the Quran so that we may compile the Quranic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you.” Hafsah sent it to Uthman. Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, Abdullah ibn Az-Zubair, Sa`id ibn Al-As and Abdul-Rahman ibn Harith ibn Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, “In case you disagree with Zaid ibn Thabit on any point in the Quran, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Quran was revealed in their tongue.” They did so, and when they had written many copies, Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsah. Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Quranic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. (Al-Bukhari)

What are the Qira’at?

According to scholars of Quranic studies, the ten famous qira’at known today represent a limited number of the variations that existed prior to the Uthmanic codex and recited by famous Companions of the Prophet such as Adbullah ibn Masud, Abdullah ibn Abbas, Ali ibn Abi Talib, Ubayy ibn Kab and Lady Aishah (may Allah be pleased with them all). These variant readings have been recorded in books of tafsir, qira’at, and fiqh

Ibn Mujahid is the one who enumerated seven acceptable modes of recitation in his book Kitab Al-Sab` fi al-Qira’at. He picked one reader for every major center of the Muslim world (Makkah- Ibn Kathir, Damascus – Ibn Amir, Basrah – Abu Amr, Madinah- Nafi`). From Kufa, he chose three readers Asim, Hamzah, and Al-Kisa’i.

Later Ibn Al-Jazari added three other readers to the list of Ibn Mujahid; Abu Ja`far from Madinah, Yaqub from Basrah and Khalaf from Kufa.

Sources: 

https://yaqeeninstitute.org/

https://sunnah.com

https://islamqa.info

And Allah knows best.

I hope this helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

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