Clarifying some Misconceptions about the Seven Qiraa’aat: Ibn Taymiyah

Sheikh al-Islaam ibn Taymiyah once received a letter with a series of questions regarding the different huroof/ahruf (dialects) and various qiraa’aat (modes of recitation) of the Qur’an. One part of this question read:

وسئل عن قول النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ” { أنزل القرآن على سبعة أحرف } ” ما المراد بهذه السبعة ؟ وهل هذه القراءات المنسوبة إلى نافع وعاصم وغيرهما هي الأحرف السبعة أو واحد منها ؟ ـ

The sheikh was asked about the statement of the Prophet (ﷺ), “The Qur’an was revealed in seven ahruf” – what is meant by these seven? And are the qiraa’aat which are attributed to Naafi’, ‘Aasim and others these seven ahruf, or only one of them?

So the sheikh responded to this question by writing:

فنقول : لا نزاع بين العلماء المعتبرين أن ” الأحرف السبعة ” التي ذكر النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أن القرآن أنزل عليها ليست هي ” قراءات القراء السبعة المشهورة ” بل أول من جمع قراءات هؤلاء هو الإمام أبو بكر بن مجاهد وكان على رأس المائة الثالثة ببغداد فإنه أحب أن يجمع المشهور من قراءات الحرمين والعراقين والشام ; إذ هذه الأمصار الخمسة هي التي خرج منها علم النبوة من القرآن وتفسيره والحديث والفقه من الأعمال الباطنة والظاهرة وسائر العلوم الدينية فلما أراد ذلك جمع قراءات سبعة مشاهير من أئمة قراء هذه الأمصار ; ليكون ذلك موافقا لعدد الحروف التي أنزل عليها القرآن لا لاعتقاده أو اعتقاد غيره من العلماء أن القراءات السبعة هي الحروف السبعة أو أن هؤلاء السبعة المعينين هم الذين لا يجوز أن يقرأ بغير قراءتهم . ـ

I say: Among the scholars whose views are given weight, there is no disagreement that the seven ahruf which the Prophet (ﷺ) said the Qur’an was sent down in are not the same thing as the qiraa’aat of the seven well-known reciters.

To the contrary, the first person who grouped these qiraa’aat together was Imam Abu Bakr ibn Mujahid, who lived in Baghdad at the beginning of the third century. He did this because he wanted to compile the well-known qiraa’aat of Mecca, Madinah, Kufah, Basrah, and Syria, as these were the five cities from which the Prophetic knowledge of the Qur’an, its tafsir, hadeeth, fiqh of both the outward and internal actions, and all other religious sciences spread.

So, with that goal in mind, he made a selection of the seven most well-known qiraa’aat of the leading reciters of these cities, so that this would correspond to the number of huroof in which the Qur’an had been revealed – not because of any belief that he or any other scholars held that the seven qiraa’aat were the same as the seven huroof or that these particular seven qiraa’aat were the only ones that could be recited.

ولهذا قال من قال من أئمة القراء : لولا أن ابن مجاهد سبقني إلى حمزة لجعلت مكانه يعقوب الحضرمي إمام جامع البصرة وإمام قراء البصرة في زمانه في رأس المائتين . ـ

This is the reason why some of the leading reciters said, “If ibn Mujaahid hadn’t preceded me, I would have picked Ya’qub al-Hadhrami – who was the imam of the main masjid in Basrah and the leader of the reciters there in his time at the beginning of the second century – instead of Hamzah.”

ولا نزاع بين المسلمين أن الحروف السبعة التي أنزل القرآن عليها لا تتضمن تناقض المعنى وتضاده ; بل قد يكون معناها متفقا أو متقاربا كما قال عبد الله بن مسعود : إنما هو كقول أحدكم أقبل وهلم وتعال . ـ

وقد يكون معنى أحدهما ليس هو معنى الآخر ; لكن كلا المعنيين حق وهذا اختلاف تنوع وتغاير لا اختلاف تضاد وتناقض وهذا كما جاء في الحديث المرفوع عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم في هذا حديث : { أنزل القرآن على سبعة أحرف إن قلت : غفورا رحيما أو قلت : عزيزا حكيما فالله كذلك ما لم تختم آية رحمة بآية عذاب أو آية عذاب بآية رحمة } ” . وهذا كما في القراءات المشهورة { إلا أن يَخافا ألا يقيما } . و ( إلا أن يُخافا ألا يقيما ( وإن كان مكرهم لتَزول – ولتزول – من الجبال و ( بل عجبت وبل عجبت ونحو ذلك . ـ

And also, there is no disagreement among the Muslims that the seven huroof in which the Qur’an was revealed do not contain any discrepancies or contradictions in terms of their meanings. Rather, they could be identical in meaning or very close, just as ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood said, “They are just like when one of you says, ‘approach’, ‘come here’ or ‘come on’.”

Or, it could be that the meaning of one is not the same as the meaning of another, however both meanings are true. This type of difference is that of variation, not that of opposition or contradiction. This is like what comes in the statement of the Prophet (ﷺ) where he said

The Qur’an was revealed in seven ahruf. Whether you say, “Ghafoor, Raheem” or you say “‘Aziz, Hakeem“, Allah is like that. So long as you do not end an ayah of mercy with an ayah of punishment or end an ayah of punishment with an ayah of mercy.

And this is like in the well-known qiraa’aat:

إِلَّا أَن يَخَافَا أَلَّا يُقِيمَا

… except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits … [2:229]

and

إلَّا أَنْ يُخَافَا أَلَّا يُقِيمَا

… except if it is feared that they would be unable to keep the limits … [2:229, according to the qiraa’ah of Hamzah]

Or:

 وَإِن كَانَ مَكْرُهُمْ لِتَزُولَ مِنْهُ الْجِبَالُ

But even if their plan had succeeded, they would not be able to move the mountains [14:46]

and

وَإِنْ كَانَ مَكْرُهُمْ لَتَزُولُ مِنْهُ الْجِبَالُ

But even if they were able to move the mountains, their plan would not succeed [14:46, according to the qiraa’ah of al-Kisaa’i]

Or:

بَلْ عَجِبْتَ

Nay, you were amazed … [37:12]

and

بَلْ عَجِبْتُ

Nay, I was disapproving … [37:12, according to the qiraa’ah of Hamzah and al-Kisaa’i]

and other similar examples.

ومن القراءات ما يكون المعنى فيها متفقا من وجه متباينا من وجه كقوله : ( يخدعون ويخادعون ( ويكذبون ويكذبون ( ولمستم ولامستم و ( حتى يطهرن ويطهرن ونحو ذلك فهذه القراءات التي يتغاير فيها المعنى كلها حق وكل قراءة منها مع القراءة الأخرى بمنزلة الآية مع الآية يجب الإيمان بها كلها واتباع ما تضمنته من المعنى علما وعملا لا يجوز ترك موجب إحداهما لأجل الأخرى ظنا أن ذلك [ ص: 392 ] تعارض بل كما قال عبد الله بن مسعود رضي الله عنه من كفر بحرف منه فقد كفر به كله . ـ

And also, among the qiraa’aat there are some instances in which the meanings may agree from one angle while explaining and clarifying one another from another angle. For instance, Allah’s statement:

يَخْدَعُونَ    و    يُخَادِعُونَ

“they deceive” and “they cheat” [2:9]

يَكْذِبُونَ     و    يُكَذِّبُونَ

“they lied” and “they denied” [2:10]

لَمَسْتُمْ     و    لَامَسْتُمْ

“have touched a woman” and “have had sexual intercourse with a woman” [4:43]

حَتَّى يَطْهُرْنَ     و    يَطَّهَّرْنَ

“until they are pure” and “until they purify themselves” [2:222]

and other similar examples.

So these qiraa’aat in which the meaning is slightly different – they are all true, and the relationship of each qiraa’ah to another is like the relationship of one ayah to another: believing in all of them is required, as is complying – both in terms of actions and knowledge – with what their meanings entails. It is not permitted to leave what one entails for the sake of another, thinking that one opposes the other. Rather, it is as ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Whoever disbelieves in one harf [letter/dialect] of the Qur’an has disbelieved in all of it.”

وأما ما اتحد لفظه ومعناه وإنما يتنوع صفة النطق به كالهمزات والمدات والإمالات ونقل الحركات والإظهار والإدغام والاختلاس وترقيق اللامات والراءات : أو تغليظها ونحو ذلك مما يسمى القراءات الأصول فهذا أظهر وأبين في أنه ليس فيه تناقض ولا تضاد مما تنوع فيه اللفظ أو المعنى ; إذ هذه الصفات المتنوعة في أداء اللفظ لا تخرجه عن أن يكون لفظا واحدا ولا يعد ذلك فيما اختلف لفظه واتحد معناه أو اختلف معناه من المترادف ونحوه ولهذا كان دخول هذا في حرف واحد من الحروف السبعة التي أنزل القرآن عليها من أولى ما يتنوع فيه اللفظ أو المعنى وإن وافق رسم المصحف وهو ما يختلف فيه النقط أو الشكل . ـ

As for those places where the wording and the meaning are one and it is only the way of articulation and pronunciation that are different – such as with the placement of the letter hamzah, elongation of certain vowels, different vocalizations of some vowels, changes of certain letters, ithhaar, idghaam, ikhfaa’, the different pronunciations of the letters laam and raa, and other similar things which are referred to in the field of the qiraa’aat as the Usool (principles) – then it is even more clear and obvious than it was with certain qiraa’aat differing in wordings or meaning that these things do not entail any contradiction or opposition.

So these various differences of articulating a word still produce the same word and do not result in what would be categorized as a difference of wording with the same meaning or a difference of meaning resulting from near synonyms or any other such categorization.

So, if the variations of wordings and/or meanings – all while corresponding to the official ‘Uthmani mushaf – which result from differences in the placement of the dots and the tashkeel are all part of just one of the seven huroof in which the Qur’an was revealed, then it is even more fitting and obvious that that would also be the case with these differences in pronunciation.

[Majmoo’ al-Fataawaa 13/389-391]

See more material from the same letter:

The Seven Qiraa’aat are all Part of One Harf: ibn Taymiyah [Forthcoming, inshaAllaah]

Where Do the Differences in the Qiraa’aat Come From?: ibn Taymiyah

Learning the Qur’an – Both Wordings and Meanings: ibn Taymiyah

See also: How the Seven Reciters were Chosen: al-Zarkashi [forthcoming, inshaAllaah]

See also: : Clarification on the Ahruf and Qiraa’aat of the Qur’an: ibn Hajr

See also: Qiraa’aat and their Conditions for Acceptance: Sheikh Muqbil

See also: Tafsir of the Qur’an and its Connection to the Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti

See also: Benefits of the Multiple Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti

See also: Non-Canonical Recitations Can Help Explain the Qur’an: al-Zarkashi

See also: A Note on the Different Qiraa’aat: Sheikh bin Baaz

See also: The Early History of the Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti

See also: Why do the Qiraa’aat Differ?: Makki ibn Abi Taalib

17 thoughts on “Clarifying some Misconceptions about the Seven Qiraa’aat: Ibn Taymiyah

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