Perfect preservation of the Holy Quran: Standardisation of the main dialect

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Last Updated on 25th June 2021

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Farhan Iqbal, Missionary, Canada

In the previous article of this series, it was discussed that different dialects of the Holy Quran existed in the time of the Holy Prophetsa, while the primary one remained the Hijazi or Quraishi dialect that was also the dialect of the Holy Prophetsa

In the early years, the need for the dialects, other than the main one, remained for a time as different tribes which spoke different dialects of Arabic entered Islam and needed to be taught the Holy Quran. However, as time passed and Islam spread throughout the Middle East, it became no longer necessary to learn each one of the dialects of the Holy Quran. The main dialect was the Hijazi dialect and this dialect became common among all Arabs. This was especially true by the time of Hazrat Uthmanra

Explaining the conditions of this time, Hazrat Musleh-e-Mauudra writes that Medina had become a capital and all the various tribes had mixed with one another and had become one nation. The leaders of the Muslims were the companions from Mecca and the companions of Medina had also learned the Hijazi dialect, which meant the time was right for the standardisation of the main dialect of the Holy Quran. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 9, p. 48)

This is what Hazrat Uthmanra did by ensuring that the manuscripts written for the other dialects were all brought to Medina and burned while the main dialect was standardised. 

Hazrat Uthmanra sent a request to Hazrat Hafsahra to send him the manuscript that had been prepared at the time of Hazrat Abu Bakrra with the unanimous approval of all the companions. This was the mush‘af-e-umm and it was used by Hazrat Uthmanra to make standard copies of the Holy Quran. Hazrat Uthmanra instructed Hazrat Zaidra bin Thabit, Hazrat Abdullahra bin Zubair, Hazrat Saeedra bin Aas and Hazrat Abdur Rahmanra bin Harith bin Hisham to prepare the standard manuscript. He further gave the instruction: 

فَاكْتُبُوهُ بِلِسَانِ قُرَيْشٍ فَإِنَّمَا نَزَلَ بِلِسَانِهِمْ

That is, “Write it in the language of the Quraish because the Quran was revealed in their language”. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Virtues of the Quran, Chapter: The collection of the Quran http://sunnah.com/bukhari/66/9)

As such, using the mush‘af-e-umm, Hazrat Uthmanra had seven manuscripts prepared. One was kept with him in Medina, while the other six were sent to various provinces of the Islamic empire. Furthermore, an official reciter (qari) of the Quran was sent along with each manuscript so that the reading of each of these manuscripts was also standard based on the language or dialect of the Quraish. (Al-Zikrul Mahfuz, p. 295, [2007])

This entire exercise laid the foundation of the official manuscript of the Quran that was now being spread widely. Hazrat Alira is reported to have said:

لولم يصنعه عثمان لصنعته

That is, “If Hazrat Uthmanra had not done it, I would have certainly done it”. (Abu Bakr Abdullah bin Sulaiman, Kitab al-Masahif, p. 177, [2002])

In other words, this task of Hazrat Uthmanra was so important that if he had not done it, Hazrat Alira would have taken it up and done it during his Khilafat. 

Why was the mush‘af-e-umm not standardised? 

A question may be asked here that why did Hazrat Uthmanra set up a committee of companions to prepare the standard manuscript and why did he not simply use the mush‘af-e-umm

Answering this question, Ahsanullah Danish Sahib writes that the intention of Hazrat Uthmanra was to standardise the text of the Quran to the Quraishi dialect or form of recitation. There was only one difference that arose between the mush‘af-e-umm and the manuscript that was prepared by Hazrat Uthmanra and that was related to the way the word تابوت taabut is to be written. 

The tribe of Hazrat Zaidra wrote the word as تابوة taabut with a round taa at the end; the Quraish on the other hand wrote it with the regular ت taa. When this case was presented to Hazrat Uthmanra, he said that it should be written in the language of the Quraish as تابوت taabut with regular ت taa. The standard manuscript that was prepared during the time of Hazrat Uthmanra is called mush‘af-ul-Imam

As far as the differences between the mush‘af-e-umm and mush‘af-ul-Imam are concerned, Ahsanullah Danish Sahib writes that even if all the inauthentic traditions are considered to be true, the total number of differences amounts to 12, which were all related to the style of writing similar to the one example discussed above and did not impact the meaning. (Al-Zikrul Mahfuz, p. 297 [2007])

Differences in dialects not due to diacritical marks

One thing to note here is that it is sometimes assumed that the qira‘at or readings are due to the variants in the diacritical marks and dots. This is not the case at all. The different readings existed from the time of the Holy Prophetsa as it has been discussed in this article series. However, diacritical marks were added much later, in the 40s AH. (Ibid, p. 302)

The mush‘af-ul-Imam prepared by Hazrat Uthmanra came prior to the 40s AH, which means that the Muslim world had a standard reading and qira‘ah prior to the addition of diacritical marks. The early companions did not need these marks or the dots in order to read the Quran properly. The scriptural style of writing of each letter determined its pronunciation and they felt no need for the dots or marks. However, later generations and new converts who were not Arab required them for ease of learning and reading the Quran. 

What happened to other qira‘at?

The other important point to note is that the other qira‘at did not totally disappear after the time of Hazrat Uthmanra. While the standardisation process was taking place, the other qira‘at lived on through oral tradition. Eventually, 80-100 years after the time of Hazrat Uthmanra, the Muslim community started to write down the other qira‘at (Ibid, p. 309). Hence, the main, authentic, perfectly preserved dialect of the Quran that comes straight from the time of the Holy Prophetsa is the Quraishi dialect. The other dialects and qira‘at are based on traditions – similar to the way ahadith were transmitted – and did not enjoy the same kind of preservation through history as the Quraishi dialect did.

The hafs and warsh readings

The subject of multiple of qira‘aat of the Holy Quran continued to develop as a form of knowledge and served the Muslim community as an additional subject in the commentary of the Quran and to understand its meanings. Ahsanullah Danish Sahib notes that over time, the popular qira‘at developed further, while the unpopular ones were confined to books. In the ninth century AH, Ibn Mujahid wrote a book Al-Qira‘atus-Sab listing seven qira‘at named after famous reciters, namely, warshqanbalsusiIbn Zakwanhafskhallaad, and doori

The most famous among them are the warsh and hafs. Among these, hafs is in accordance with the language of the Quraish while warsh is a little different. One website (http://muslimprophets.com/article.php?aid=64 [Accessed 26 April 2020]) has listed 51 small differences and if we go through the list, we come to realise that the meaning of the Quran is not impacted at all and the differences are within the parameters that have been defined in this series. That is, they are no more than the differences one expects between dialects. Nevertheless, the hafs reading – which is based on the Quraishi dialect – is the most common in the Muslim world. 

It is these differences of dialects that critics of the Holy Quran use to somehow prove that the Quran has different “versions” and those versions somehow “contradict” one another. 

To illustrate, I will quote a famous online critic, Mr Jay Smith, who presents these differences to audiences whom he is preparing to preach to Muslims. Using his criticisms as case studies would be fair as they are in popular discussion and since he has an agenda to convert Muslims to his faith, he must have placed maximum efforts to find those differences that he considers to be the most problematic for Islam. 

Example 1: Qaatala and qutila

One example Mr Smith quotes is that of Surah Aal-e-Imran, verse 147. In the hafs, Quraishi reading, it is as follows (note the word qaatala): 

وَ كَاَيِّنۡ مِّنۡ نَّبِيٍّ قٰتَلَ ۙ مَعَهٗ رِبِّيُّوۡنَ كَثِيۡرٌ ۚ فَمَا وَهَنُوۡا لِمَاۤ اَصَابَهُمۡ فِيۡ سَبِيۡلِ اللّٰهِ وَ مَا ضَعُفُوۡا وَ مَا اسۡتَكَانُوۡا ؕ وَ اللّٰهُ يُحِبُّ الصّٰبِرِيۡنَ

Translation: “And many a Prophet there has been beside whom fought numerous companies [oftheir followers]. They slackened not for aught that befell them in the way of Allah, nor did they weaken, nor did they humiliate themselves [before the enemy]. And Allah loves the steadfast.” 

In the warsh reading, it is written as follows (note the word qutila): 

Mr Smith translates it as follows: “And how many prophets were killed, with whom were many worshippers of the Lord”. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nBO6ja0_RU, [Accessed 26 April 2020]).

At the very outset, we can note that the translation of the warsh reading is a gross misrepresentation of the original text. The correct translation is:

“And many a Prophet there has been beside whom were killed numerous companies [of their followers]. They slackened not for aught that befell them in the way of Allah, nor did they weaken, nor did they humiliate themselves [before the enemy]. And Allah loves the steadfast”. 

The hafs reading says that the followers of prophets fought while the warsh reading says that the follows of prophets were killed

The meaning and purport of the statement is the same; the followers of prophets risked their lives and fought and were killed. What is more is that the meanings are complimentary to one another and only increase our understanding of the Holy Quran, and expand the meanings of the statement. 

Example 2: Bariyyah and baree‘ah

The hafs reading of Surah al-Bayyinah, verse 7, is as follows: 

اِنَّ الَّذِيۡنَ كَفَرُوۡا مِنۡ اَهۡلِ الۡكِتٰبِ وَ الۡمُشۡرِكِيۡنَ فِيۡ نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ خٰلِدِيۡنَ فِيۡهَا ؕ اُولٰٓئِكَ هُمۡ شَرُّ الۡبَرِيَّةِ

Translation: “Verily, those who disbelieve from among the People of the Book and the idolaters will be in the Fire of Hell, abiding therein. They are the worst of creatures”.

The warsh readingon the other hand, is as follows: 

Mr Smith translates it as follows: “Indeed, they who disbelieved among the People of the Scripture and the polytheists will be in the fire of Hell, abiding eternally therein. Those are the worst of the innocent”.

The problem here is that Mr Smith has betrayed his lack of knowledge of the Arabic language. The words baree‘ah and bariyyah are from the same root and have the same meaning. The only difference is that one Arabic dialect pronounced the word with the hamzah and the others did not. This matter is discussed in Arabic dictionaries and commentaries of the Holy Quran. For instance, Lisanul Arab makes the following note: 

والنَبِيءُ: الـمُخْبِر عن اللّٰه، …..قال: ويجوز فيه تحقيق الهمز وتخفيفه. يقال نَبَأَ ونَبَّأَ وأَنـْبَأَ. قال سيبويه: ليس أَحد من العرب إِلاّ ويقول تَنَبَّأَ مُسَيْلِمة،بالهمز، غير أَنهم تركوا الهمز في النبيِّ كما تركوه في الذُرِّيَّةِ والبَرِيَّةِ والخابِيةِ، إِلاّ أَهلَ مكة، فإِنهم يهمزون هذه الأَحرف ولا يهمزون غيرها، ويُخالِفون العرب في ذلك. قال: والهمز في النَّبِيءِ لغة رديئة، يعني لقلة استعمالها، لا لأَنَّ القياس يمنع من ذلك. أَلا ترى إِلى قول سيِّدِنا رسولِ اللّٰه، صلى اللّٰه عليه وسلم: وقد قيل يا نَبِيءَ اللّٰه، فقال له: لا تَنْبِر باسْمي، فإِنما أَنا نَبِيُّ اللّٰه.

وفي رواية: فقال لستُ بِنَبِيءِ اللّٰهِ ولكنِّي نبيُّ اللّٰه. (لسان العرب)

Translation: “An-Nabee‘u: The one who informs from Allah … It is said: it is allowed to include the hamzah or drop it. It is reported: naba‘a, nabba‘a, anba‘a. Saibwiyah says: All the Arabs say Musailamah prophesied (tanabba‘a with hamzah). However, they dropped the hamzah in the word, an-nabiyyi (النبيّ) just as they drop it in the words, az-zurriyyati (الذُرِّيَّةِ) and al-bariyyati (البَرِيَّةِ) and al-khaabiyati (الخابِيةِ).

The exception existed among the people of Mecca, for they used the hamzah in these words, and did not use the hamzah in other words. Other Arabs differed from them. It is said: The hamzah in the word an-nabee‘i is outdated use. It is observed that such usage is incorrect. You are encouraged to look at the usage of our master, the Prophet of Allahsa: It was said (to him), O Nabee‘Allah [Prophet of Allah], and he said to him: Do not address me with that word, for I am a Nabiyyullah (Prophet of Allah). In one narration, he said: I am not Nabee‘Allah; instead, I am Nabiyyullah (Prophet of Allah). 

Another dictionary, Al-Qamus-ul-Muheet, writes, وتَرْكُ‭ ‬الهمزِ‭ ‬المختارُ, (leaving of the hamzah is a choice). Similarly, the commentary of Imam Razi adds the following note under Chapter 98, verse 6:

كيف القراءة في لفظ البرية؟ الجواب: قرأ نافع البريئة بالهمز، وقرأ الباقون بغير همز وهو من برأ اللّٰه الخلق، والقياس فيها الهمز إلا أنه ترك همزه، كالنبي والذرية والخابية، والهمزة فيه كالرد إلى الأصل المتروك في الاستعمال، كما أن من همز النبي كان كذلك وترك الهمز فيه أجود، وإن كان الهمز هو الأصل، لأن ذلك صار كالشيء المرفوض المتروك. وهمز من همز البرية يدل على فساد قول من قال: إنه من البرا الذي هو التراب.

Translation: “What about the variant reading of the word, al-bariyyah? Answer: Nafi’ recited it as al-baree‘ah with hamzah. Others recited it without the hamzah. And its origin is: Allah bara‘a (created/originated) the creation. Regarding hamzah, it is understood that it is dropped, as done for (the words) an-nabiyyuaz-zurriyyatu, and al-khaabiyatu. In these words, the hamzah is removed in usage. This is seen in the hamzah of an-nabi which exists in original form, but is dropped in final form. Regardless, hamzah remains in the original form of the word because that is like the thing that is discarded. The hamzah in the word al-bariyyatu highlights the issue as in the saying: Certainly, it is from al-bara‘a, that is, it is from sand. (Imam Muhammad al-Razi Fakhruddin, Tafsir al-Fakhrur Razi, Part 32, p. 50 [1981])

In light of these references, it must be clear that the words baree‘ah and bariyyah are the same. The only difference is that of pronunciation and dialects. Hence, the translation of 98:6 is the same for both qira‘aat: “Verily, those who disbelieve from among the People of the Book and the idolaters will be in the Fire of Hell, abiding therein. They are the worst of creatures”.

Example 3: Mautihi and mautihim

The Promised Messiahas has also used the different readings as a legitimate practice in the commentary of the Holy Quran to expound on the meanings of words and phrases. This is especially true for Surah al-Nisa (Ch.4: V.160): 

وَ اِنۡ مِّنۡ اَهۡلِ الۡكِتٰبِ اِلَّا لَيُؤۡمِنَنَّ بِهٖ قَبۡلَ مَوۡتِهٖ ۚ وَ يَوۡمَ الۡقِيٰمَةِ يَكُوۡنُ عَلَيۡهِمۡ شَهِيۡدًا

Translation: “And there is none among the People of the Book but will believe in it before his death; and on the Day of Resurrection, he [Jesus] shall be a witness against them”.

Non-Ahmadi Muslims argue that the words “before his death” refer to Jesusas and that the verse is saying that the People of the Book will all believe in Jesus Christas before his death, and this in turn means that Jesusas is still alive. Refuting this argument based on the qira‘at of this verse, the Promised Messiahas writes in Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya Part V:

“Hence, the correct translation of the above-mentioned verse I quoted is, ‘Every person from among the People of the Book will, before his death, believe in the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, or in Hazrat ‘Isa.’ The word مَوْتِهٖ  [‘his death’] refers to the People of the Book, and not Hazrat ‘Isa. This is why in another reading of this verse the words are‭ ‬مَوْتِهِمْ [‘their death’]. Why would مَوْتِهِم [‘their death’] be present in the other reading if it referred to Hazrat ‘Isa? See Tafsir Thana‘i, for it strongly confirms my statement. (Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya – Part V, English translation) 

He further writes, “[…] the alternative reading of the verse, according to the norms held by the scholars of Hadith, holds the status of an authentic hadith – and here the alternative reading of the verse قَبْلَ‭ ‬مَوْتِهٖ does exist, as‭ ‬قَبْلَ‭ ‬مَوْتِهِمْ, which has to be taken as an authentic hadith […]” (Ibid, p. 541)

Conclusion

There is no doubt the Holy Quran is a perfectly preserved book and there is also no doubt that the Quran was revealed in multiple dialects to help its quick spread among the various tribes of Arabia in the early days. By the time of Hazrat Uthmanra, a need was felt to standardise the Quran back to its primary Quraishi dialect, which was also the dialect of the Holy Prophetsa. Since then, copies of the Quran in hafs, based on the main dialect, have been published over the centuries in all parts of the Muslim world. The other dialects and readings of the Quran also survived and are treated like authentic ahadith, and help elaborate meanings of the Quran through its commentary.

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