Some variant readings in the Bible and the Qur'an

Sam Shamoun

Bassam Zawadi seeks to call into question the authority of the Bible on the basis that it contains variant readings (*). He cites one specific example from Luke 10:1:

I am going to post a verse from the Gospel of Luke from the New International Version translation and King James Version translation...

Luke 10:1

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. (NIV translation)

1 After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. (KJV translation)

So which translation is right? Is it seventy two or seventy?


We have mentioned time and time again that the biblical variant readings do not call into question the preservation of the Holy Bible any more than they would call into question any other ancient document. No ancient document has come down to us without variant readings, yet no honest critic would call into question the integrity of most of these writings.

We have also stated time and time again that the great majority of these biblical variants deal with names, places and things. Most of these variants are easily reconciled and do not call into question any essential tenet of Christianity. Just look at Zawadi’s own example. Do any Christian doctrines hinge on whether the Lukan text reads 70 instead of 72? Of course not.

And the fact of the matter is that the Holy Bible has greater manuscript authority and a more accurate textual transmission than any other document of antiquity. It is even better attested than the Quran, which happens to be more recent than the Bible and yet its corruption is actually greater.

After all, the Quran has thousands of variant readings and (contrary to what Zawadi would want to believe) is not a perfectly compiled text. For the sake of space, we limit ourselves to one example of a textual variant in the Quran. In the present Uthmanic text, we read the following:

"The prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers..." S. 33:6

The late Muslim translator Abdullah Yusuf Ali records that Ubayy b. Ka‘b, a companion of Muhammad and considered to be one of the best reciters/readers, had an additional clause which was attested by other Muslim readers:

"In spiritual relationship the Prophet is entitled to more respect and consideration than blood-relations. The Believers should follow him rather than their fathers or mothers or brothers, where there is conflict of duties. He is even nearer - closer to our real interests - than our own selves. IN SOME QIRAATS, LIKE THAT OF UBAI IBN KA'B, occur also the words ‘and he is a father to them,’ which imply his spiritual relationship and connect on with the words, ‘and his wives are their mothers.’ Thus his spiritual fatherhood would be contrasted pointedly with the repudiation of the vulgar superstition of calling any one like Zaid ibn Haritha by the appellation Zaid ibn Muhammad (xxxiii. 40): such an appellation is really disrespectful to the Prophet." (Ali, The Holy Qur'an, p. 1104, fn. 3674; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Keep in mind that Ubayy b. Ka’b was one of the four men from whom Muhammad told Muslims to learn the Quran:

Narrated Masriq:
‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr mentioned ‘Abdullah bin Masud and said, "I shall ever love that man, for I heard the Prophet saying, ‘Take (learn) the Qur'an from four: ‘Abdullah bin Masud, Salim, Mu’adh and Ubai bin Ka'b.’" (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 521)

He was also one of only four men to have the entire Quran. Ibn Sa’d recorded:

... When the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, breathed his last, NOT MORE THAN FOUR PERSONS HAD THE QUR'AN IN ITS ENTIRETY. All of them were of the Ansars and there is a difference about the fifth one. The persons of the Ansars who had collected it in its entirety were Zayd Ibn Thabit, Abu Zayd, Mu'adh Ibn Jabal and Ubayyi Ibn Ka'b, and the person about whom there is a difference was Tamim al-Dari. (Ibn Sa'd, Al-Tabaqat, Volume II, parts I & II, pp. 457-458; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Hence, we have a clause of serious theological implications, whose authority is attested by some of the most qualified compilers and reciters of the Quran, which is missing from the present text!

Interestingly, the late Muhammad Asad actually inserted this variant within brackets into his translation of the Quran:

"The Prophet has a higher claim on the believers than [they have on] their own selves, [seeing that he is as a father to them] and his wives are their mothers..."

He tried to justify the inclusion of this variant on the grounds that many of Muhammad's companions use to recite this by way of explaining the text!

Thus, connecting with the preceding mention of voluntary, elective relationships (as con≠trasted with those by blood), this verse points to the highest manifestation of an elective, spiritual relationship: that of the God-inspired Prophet and the person who freely chooses to follow him. The Prophet himself is reported to have said: "None of you has real faith unless I am dearer unto him than his father, and his child, and all mankind" (Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Anas, with several almost identical versions in other compilations). The Companions invariably regarded the Prophet as the spiritual father of his community. Some of them - e.g., Ibn Masud (as quoted by Zamakhshari) or Ubayy ibn Kab, Ibn Abbas and Muawiyah (as quoted by Ibn Kathir) - hardly ever recited the above verse without adding, by way of explanation[sic], "seeing that he is [as] a father to them"; and many of the tabi in - including Mujahid, Qatadah, lkrimah and Al-Hasan (cf. Tabari and Ibn Kathir) - did the same: hence my interpolation, between brackets, of this phrase. (However, see also verse 40 of this surah and the corresponding note.) As regards the status of the Prophet's wives as the "mothers of the believers", this arises primarily from the fact of their having shared the life of God's Apostle in its most intimate aspect. Consequently, they could not remarry after his death (see verse 53 below), since all the believers were, spiritually, their "children". (online edition; bold and underline emphasis ours)

We need to therefore ask, is this clause part of the Quran or not? Is Muhammad a father of believers or not? And how does Zawadi or any other Muslim know for certain? The simple fact is that they don’t know.

That Zawadi really has no way to prove whether this variant is an interpolation or not can be seen from the comments of the following renowned Muslim scholar of the past:

… An unusual reading of the Qur'an includes, "He is a father to them," but it is no longer recited since it is AT VARIANCE with the version of ‘Uthman. (Muhammad Messenger of Allah (Ash-Shifa of Qadi 'Iyad), Qadi 'Iyad Musa al-Yahsubi, translated by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley [Madinah Press, Inverness, Scotland, U.K. 1991; third reprint, paperback], pp. 29-30; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Note that this quote implies that even as late as the twelfth century A.D. (the book is dated at 544 A.H./1149 A.D.) this variant reading was known and being discussed by Muslims! The above scholar’s comment shows that it was deliberately expunged from the recitation due to it being in conflict with the Uthmanic text. Thus, we have a Muslim indirectly admitting that verses were being deliberately expunged on the assumption that the Uthmanic text was more reliable than the others, a position which is not supported by the Islamic data. They didn't omit the variant on the basis that it was weakly attested, but on the gratuitous presupposition that Uthman’s corrupted version of the Quran was truly authentic at every point.

Moreover, the Quran was supposedly transmitted in seven modes of which Uthman conveniently destroyed all but one:

Narrated Anas bin Malik:
Hudhaifa bin 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. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur'an, 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 Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa sent it to ‘Uthman. ‘Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, ‘Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and ‘AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. ‘Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue." They did so, and when they had written many copies, ‘Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. ‘Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Said bin Thabit added, "A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur'an and I used to hear Allah's Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): ‘Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.’" (33.23) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 510)

Muslim scholars even till this day have no real clue as to what these seven modes actually were. Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi writes:

"As for what is meant by these seven ahruf, THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF DIFFERENCE ON THIS ISSUE. Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276 A.H.) RECORDED THIRTY-FIVE OPINIONS ON THIS ISSUE, and as-Suyootee listed OVER FORTY. Ibn Sa'adan (d. 231 A.H.), a famous grammarian and reciter of the Qur'aan, even declared that the true meaning of the ahruf WAS KNOWN ONLY TO ALLAH, and thus to attempt to investigate into this issue WAS FUTILE! On the other hand, Imaam Muhammad ibn al-Jazaree (d. 832 A.H.), perhaps the greatest scholar of the qira'aat after the era of the salaf, said "I have sought to discover the meanings of these hadeeth (about the ahruf), and have pondered over them, and contemplated this topic for over thirty years, until Allaah opened my mind to that which is the correct answer in this matter. Inshaa Allaah!"

The reason that such great difference of opinion exists concerning the exact meaning of the ahruf is due to the fact THAT THERE DOES NOT EXIST ANY EXPLICIT NARRATIONS FROM THE PROPHET (pbuh), OR THE SALAF, CONCERNING THE EXACT NATURE OF THE AHRUF; these various opinions ARE MERELY THE CONCLUSIONS OF LATER SCHOLARS, based upon their examination of the evidences and their personal reasoning (ijtihaad).

Therefore, it should be understood from the outset that to arrive at one specific conclusion, and claim with certainty that it alone is correct and all else is wrong, is pure folly."(Qadhi, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qura'aan [al-Hadaayah Publishing, 1999, ISBN - 1 898649 32 4], p. 175 f; bold and capital emphasis ours) (Source of quote)

Another Muslim concludes:

As far as the narrative regarding the seven different ways of reading the Qur'an are concerned, I am in agreement with the opinion expressed by Tamanna `emaadi. The content of this narrative does not allow to take it in the meaning of differences in accent only. Moreover, there are a number of flaws in the content of the narrative, due to which it is not possible to satisfactorily hold it to be an accurate account of the actual events.

Let us first take a brief look at the narrative in question. According to the reporting of Imaam Maalik ibn Anas, in his "Mu'atta", Umar ibn al-Khattaab (ra) says:

"I heard Hishaam ibn Hakeem ibn Hezaam reciting Surah Al-Furqaan [while leading prayers] in a manner different from the way I recited it, and the way the Prophet (pbuh) himself had taught me to recite it. I was about to grab him immediately, and then I decided to give him some time to complete his prayers. At that time I grabbed him by his stole/shawl and pulled him to the Prophet (pbuh). I said to the Prophet (pbuh): O Prophet I heard him recite Surah Al-Furqaan in a different manner than the one that you taught me. The Prophet (pbuh) directed me to let go of him, and then directed Hishaam to recite the Surah. Hishaam recited it in the same way he was reciting it during his prayers. The Prophet (pbuh) [, at the end of his recital,] said: This is how it was revealed. Then the Prophet (pbuh) directed me to recite the Surah. Then I recited the Surah [as I knew it]. The Prophet (pbuh) [, at the end of my recital,] said: This is how it was revealed. Then added: The Qur'an was revealed in 'sab`ah ahruf' you can read it according to the one which is suitable for you."

The above narrative has indeed been reported by the most accepted compilations of narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh), however the fact remains THAT ITS EXACT IMPLICATION HAS ALWAYS BEEN A MYSTERY FOR THE MUSLIM SCHOLARS. Imaam Suyuti, in his "Al-Ittiqaan fi `uloom al-Qur'an" has narrated more or less FORTY DIFFERENT SAYINGS TRYING TO EXPLAIN THE IMPLICATION OF THIS NARRATIVE but has finally conceded in his commentary of the Mu'atta "Tanvir al-Hawaalik" that none of these (forty) explanations is completely acceptable and therefore the correct opinion seems to be of those who hold that the narrative is quite inexplicable and should therefore be considered a 'Mutashaabeh'.

An acceptable explanation might have been that the different recitations of Surah Al-Furqaan mentioned in the narrative actually refer to the different dialects of the various tribes of the Arabs. However, this explanation also becomes redundant in view of the fact that the two persons involved in this incident (Umar and Hishaam) are from the same tribe of Qureish, and no inter-tribe variation of dialect could have existed between these two persons. Moreover, the Qur'an has clearly stated that it was revealed in the dialect of the Qureish. Thus, even if the two persons had belonged to different tribes, the words "the Qur'an was revealed in 'sab`ah ahruf' would have remained in contradiction to the Qur'an.

Furthermore, it is well known that Hishaam ibn Hakeem ibn Hezaam accepted Islam after the conquest of Mekkah. Thus, accepting this narrative to be true would imply accepting that even till the time of the conquest of Mekkah, important companions of the Prophet (pbuh) - people like Umar ibn al-Khattaab (ra) - remained unaware of the fact that the Prophet (pbuh) was secretly teaching the Qur'an in a number of different ways than the one in which these companions were being taught.

Finally, a number of historical narratives tell us that the Prophet (pbuh) not only used to dictate the verses that were revealed to him to quite a few of his companions as a step toward the preservation of these revelations, but also used to explain the placement of the new revelations with reference to the written or memorized record that already existed. Nevertheless, there is not a single narrative that tells us that while informing about and dictating the new revelations, the Prophet (pbuh) told his scribes about the variation in the words of the new revelation. (The Narrative Regarding the Seven Readings (Sab`ah Ahruf) of the Qur'an; onlin source; bold and capital emphasis ours)

These Muslims weren't the only ones confused since even the Master of the Quranic reciters himself, Ubayy b. Kabb, was perplexed over this issue:

Ubayy bin Ka'b (Allah be pleased with him) reported: Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught me a Surah. One day I was sitting in the mosque when a man entered and recited the same Surah in a different style. I said: Who taught you this Surah? He replied, "Allah's Messenger taught it to me." I asked him to stay till we meet Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Then we went to Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and I said to him: Allah's Messenger, this man recited a Surah in a style different from the one which you had taught me to recite it. Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: Recite, O Ubayy! I recited. He said: Your recitation is good. Then he (the Holy Prophet) asked the other person to recite. He recited in a style different from the one in which I had recited. Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) expressed approval of this mode of recitation and said: O Ubayy! The Qur'an has been revealed in seven modes; in whichever mode it is recited, that will be correct and sufficient. (Sunan Nasa'i: English translation with Arabic Text, compiled by Imam Abu Abd-ur-Rahman Ahmad Nasa'i, rendered into English by Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqui [Kazi Publication, 121-Zulqarnain Chambers, Gampat Road, Lahore, Pakistan], Volume 2, Number 943, pp. 34-35)

Ubayy bin Ka'b (Allah be pleased with him) reported: There occurred in my mind a matter which did not occur since I embraced Islam that I recited a verse in one mode while the other recited it in a different style. I said: Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has taught it to me. He said: Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has taught it to me. I went to Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and I said to him: Allah's Messenger, you have taught me to recite this verse in this style. He (the Holy Prophet) said: Yes. The other person said: You have taught me to recite this verse in this style. He (the Holy Prophet) said: Yes. Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said that Gabriel and Michael came to him, and when Gabriel had sat down at his right and Michael at his left, Gabriel told him to recite the Qur'an in mode, and Michael told him to ask more, till he reached seven modes, each mode being sufficient and correct. (Ibid., number 944, pp. 35-36; bold emphasis ours)


Ubayy b. Ka'b said : When I was in the mosque as a man entered and prayed and recited in a manner to which I objected. Afterwards a man entered and recited in a manner different from the other. When we had finished the prayer we all went to visit God's messenger, and I said, "This man recited in a manner different from his." The Prophet then commanded them to recite, and when they had done so he expressed approval of both of them. This made me inclined to tell him HE WAS WRONG, even to the extent I had never reached in the pre-Islamic period; and when God's messenger noticed how I was affected he gave me a pat on the chest, whereupon I broke into a sweat and was filled with fear as though I were looking at God. He then said to me, "A message was sent to me, Ubayy, to recite the Qur'an in one mode, but when I replied that I wished matters to be made easy for my people, a second message instructed me to recite it in two modes. Again I replied that I wished matters to be made easy for my people, and a third message instructed me to recite it in seven modes. I being told at the same time that I might ask something for each reply I had received. I therefore said, 'O God, forgive my people. O God, forgive my people;' and I have delayed the third request till the day of intercession." Muslim transmitted it. (Miskhat al-Masabih, English Translation with Explanatory Notes by Dr. James Robson [SH. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, Booksellers & Exporters, Lahore PK, reprinted 1990], Book VIII.-The Excellent Qualities of the Qur'an, Chapter III, pp. 466-467; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Ibn Masud was also taken aback:

Ibn Mas'ud said : I heard a man who recited, and as I had heard the Prophet reciting differently I took him to the Prophet and told him and noticed that he gave me a disapproving look. He then said, "Both of you are doing it well, so do not disagree, for your predecessors disagreed and perished." Bukhari transmitted. (Ibid., p. 466)

Yet that these modes weren’t merely dialectal differences, but included major variations in wording, can be seen from the following source:

Ubayy b. Ka’b reported: The Prophet (may peace be upon him) said: Ubayy, I was asked to recite the Qur’an. I was asked: In one mode or two modes? The angel that accompanied me said: Say in two modes. I said: In two modes. I was again asked: In two modes or three? The angel that was in my company said: Say, in three modes. So I said: In three modes. The matter reached up to seven modes. He then said: Each mode is sufficiently health-giving, whether you utter "all-hearing and all-knowing" or instead "all-powerful and all-wise". This is valid until you finish the verse indicating punishment on mercy and finish the verse indicating mercy on punishment. (Sunan Abu Dawud, English translation with explanatory notes by Prof. Ahmad Hasan [Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, Booksellers & Exporters; Lahore, Pakistan, 1984], Volume I, Hadith Number 1472, p. 387; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Muhammad implies that these various modes contained different readings, not simply different pronunciations, a point even admitted by the translator.

The Prophet (may peace be upon him) was allowed to make a minor change in the names of Allah at the end of the verses. But ordinary persons cannot be allowed to do so (‘Awn al–Ma’bud, I, 551). (Ibid., fn. 819)

But it gets worse. The Uthmanic text was transmitted in different and conflicting versions, seven of which were standardized, yet not on the authority of Muhammad or Uthman, but by a Muslim scholar living centuries after Muhammad.

In fact, even to this day there isn’t one version of the Quran, but at least two that are still used from over a dozen versions. These versions are called qiraat, or readings, by Muslims, which they expediently deem to be equally authoritative:

When reading the Qur'an, we frequently refer to Warsh or Hafs and say, "This is Hafs" or "This is Warsh". What we mean by that is that this is the riwaya or Warsh or the riwaya of Hafs. It is the riwaya of a particular qira'a. The qira'at or the readings, or methods of recitation, are named after the leader of a school of Qur'an reciters. Each qira'a derives its authority from a prominent leader of recitation in the second or third century hijri who in turn trace their riwaya or transmission back through the Companions of the Prophet. For instance, in the back of a Warsh Qur'an, you are likely to find "the riwaya of Imam Warsh from Nafi' al-Madini from Abu Ja'far Yazid ibn al-Qa'qa' from 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas from Ubayy ibn Ka'b from the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, from Jibril, peace be upon him, from the Creator." Or in Hafs you will see "the riwaya of Hafs ibn Sulayman ibn al-Mughira al-Asadi al-Kufi of the qira'a of 'Asim ibn Abi'n-Nujud al-Kufi from Abu 'Abdu'r-Rahman 'Abdullah ibn Habib as-Sulami from 'Uthman ibn 'Affan and 'Ali ibn Abi Talib and Zayd ibn Thabit and Ubayy ibn Ka'b from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace." These all go back to the Prophet.

There are slight differences in these readings, for example, where one stops, as in Surat al-Baqara (1): "Dhalika'l-Kitabu la rayb" or "Dhalika'l-Kitabu la rayba fih" as well as some voweling differences ("suddan" or "saddan"), and sometimes a difference in the letters due to different diacritical marks, as ya' or ta' (turja'una or yurja'una). Sometimes a word will have a shadda or not have a shadda…

Today, the two readings most used are the qira'a of 'Asim in the riwaya of Hafs, and the qira'a of Nafi' in the riwaya of Warsh. Also in use in Africa is the qira'a of Abu 'Amir in the riwaya of ad-Duri. (Aisha Bewley, The Seven Qira'at of the Qur'an; online source; bold emphasis ours)

Another source records:

(C)ertain variant readings existed and, indeed, persisted and increased as the Companions who had memorised the text died, and because the inchoate (basic) Arabic script, lacking vowel signs and even necessary diacriticals to distinguish between certain consonants, was inadequate. ... In the 4th Islamic century, it was decided to have recourse (to return) to "readings" (qira'at) handed down from seven authoritative "readers" (qurra'); in order, moreover, to ensure accuracy of transmission, two "transmitters" (rawi, pl. ruwah) were accorded to each. There resulted from this seven basic texts (al-qira'at as-sab', "the seven readings"), each having two transmitted versions (riwayatan) with only minor variations in phrasing, but all containing meticulous vowel-points and other necessary diacritical marks. ... The authoritative "readers" are:

Nafi` (from Medina; d. 169/785)
Ibn Kathir (from Mecca; d. 119/737)
Abu `Amr al-`Ala' (from Damascus; d. 153/770)
Ibn `Amir (from Basra; d. 118/736)
Hamzah (from Kufah; d. 156/772)
al-Qisa'i [sic] (from Kufah; d. 189/804)
Abu Bakr `Asim (from Kufah; d. 158/778)

(Cyril Glassť, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam [Harper & Row: San Francisco, 1989], p. 324, bold added)

This next website called Islamic Question Online with Mufti Ebrahim Desai that answers common questions, claims that the actual number of qiraats or versions were much more than seven:

During the first two centuries, there were approximately 25 different Qiraats, but they were not compiled. It was only in the third century that Imaam Abu Ubayd Qaasim ibn Salaam compiled the first book on Qiraat, 'Kitaab al-Qiraat'. Thereafter, in the fourth century, Imaam Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Moosa ibn Abbaas ibn Mujaahid compiled a Kitaab, namely 'Kitaab as-Sab'ah' in which he gathered seven Qiraat which were common in his era and commonly known as Qiraat as-Sab'ah.

Imaam Abu Muhammad Makki (RA) states that there were approximately 70 other Qiraats. However, he chose, only seven Qiraats and since he was a popular personality, his Kitaab also became very famous. That led to people concentrating only on the seven types of Qiraat.

Many great Aimmah disagreed with Imaam ibn Mujaahid of confining the Qiraats to seven and leaving out the other Qiraats. Therefore, they wrote Kitaabs consisting of the other Qiraats. Thus, we find that Qiraat al-Thalaathah (3 additional Qiraats) which we call Asharah.

(Question 14508 from Australia: Why does there exist different riwayat of the quran e.g. warsh, hafs? isn't the quran preserved in it's original form?; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The following Salafi website acknowledges this mass confusion which surrounded the Quran’s transmission:

Secondly, what is meant by styles (ahruf, sing. harf)?

The BEST of the scholarly OPINIONS concerning what is meant is that there are seven ways of reciting the Qur’aan, where the wording may differ but the meaning is the same; if there is a different meaning then it is by way of variations on a theme, not opposing and contradiction.

Thirdly ...

Some of the scholars said that what was meant by ahruf was the dialects of the Arabs, but this is FAR-FETCHED, because of the hadeeth of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab who said: “I heard Hishaam ibn Hakeem reciting Soorat al-Furqaan in a manner different from that in which I used to recite it and the way in which the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) taught me to recite it. I was about to argue with him whilst he was praying, but I waited until he finished his prayer, and then I tied his garment around his neck and seized him by it and brought him to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said, ‘O Messenger of Allaah, I heard this man reciting Soorat-al-Furqaan in a way different to the way you taught it to me.’ The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said to him, ‘Recite it,’ and he recited it as I had heard him recite it. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, ‘It was revealed like this.’ Then he said to me, ‘Recite it,’ so I recited it and he said, ‘It was revealed like this.’ This Qur'aan has been revealed in seven different ways, so recite it in the way that is easiest for you.’”

It is known that Hishaam was Asadi Qurashi (i.e., from the clan of Bani Asad in Quraysh) and ‘Umar was ‘Adawi Qurashi (i.e., from the clan of Bani ‘Adiyy in Quraysh). Both of them were from Quraysh and Quraysh had only one dialect. If the difference in ahruf (styles) had been a difference in dialects, why would two men of Quraysh have been different?

The scholars mentioned NEARLY FORTY DIFFERENT OPINIONS concerning this matter! Perhaps the most correct is that which we have mentioned above. And Allaah knows best.


It seems that the seven styles were revealed with different wordings, as indicated by the hadeeth of ‘Umar, because ‘Umar’s objection was to the style, not the meaning. The differences between these styles are not the matter of contradiction and opposition, rather they are synonymous, as Ibn Mas’ood said: "It is like one of you saying halumma, aqbil or ta’aal (all different ways of saying ‘Come here’)."


With regard to the seven recitations (al-qiraa’aat al-saba’), this number is not based on the Qur’aan and Sunnah, rather it is the ijtihaad of Ibn Mujaahid (may Allaah have mercy on him). People thought that al-ahruf al-saba’ (the seven styles) were al-qiraa’aat al-saba’ (the seven recitations) because they happened to be the same number. But this number may have come about coincidentally, or it may have been done deliberately by Ibn Mujaahid to match what was narrated about the number of styles (ahruf) being seven. Some people thought that the styles (ahruf) were the recitations, but this is a mistake. No such comment is known among the scholars. The seven recitations are one of the seven styles, and this is the style that ‘Uthmaan chose for all the Muslims.


When ‘Uthmaan made copies of the Qur’aan, he did so according to one style (harf), but he omitted the dots and vowel points so that some other styles could also be accommodated. So the Mus-haf that was copied in his time could be read according to other styles, and whatever styles were accommodated by the Mus-haf of ‘Uthmaan remained in use, and the styles that could not be accommodated fell into disuse. The people had started to criticize one another for reciting differently, so ‘Uthmaan united them by giving them one style of the Qur’aan.


Your saying that Mujaahid’s different recitations meant the seven styles (ahruf) is not correct, as was said by Shaykh al-Islam ibn Taymiyyah. (Majmoo’ah al-Fatawa, vol. 13, p. 210) …

Islam Q&A (
(Question #5142: The revelation of the Qur’aan in seven styles (ahruf, sing. harf); online source; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Now imagine what Zawadi would say if a Christian came to him and told him that the books of the Bible were transmitted in seven modes, the exact meaning of which no Christian scholar knows. Imagine his reaction if he were told that one mode was standardized which was transmitted in various versions, seven of which were chosen by Christian scribes in the second or third centuries who claimed that these could be traced to the time of Christ’s disciples. He would probably have the same reaction that most non-Muslims have when they are told that this is exactly the situation with the textual transmission of the Quran.

Advice to Zawadi: Men living in glasshouses shouldn’t pick up stones and throw them at others.

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