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

In his Saheeh, under the book of the Virtues of the Qur’an, Imam al-Bukhari included a long hadith of the dispute between ‘Umar and Hisham which ended with the Prophet saying:

إِنَّ هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ أُنْزِلَ عَلَى سَبْعَةِ أَحْرُفٍ فَاقْرَءُوا مَا تَيَسَّرَ مِنْهُ

This Qur’an was sent down in seven ahruf [dialects], so recite whatever of it is easy for you.

[Saheeh al-Bukhari #4992]

In one part of his celebrated explanation of Saheeh al-Bukhari, al-haafidh ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalaani included the following valuable content regarding the ahruf [dialects] and qiraa’aat [modes of recitation] of the Qur’an, as well as important information about the number, canonization, and conditions for acceptance of the qiraa’aat, in his explanation of that hadith:

قال أبو شامة : وقد اختلف السلف في الأحرف السبعة التي نزل بها القرآن هل هي مجموعة في المصحف الذي بأيدي الناس اليوم أو ليس فيه إلا حرف واحد منها ، مال ابن الباقلاني إلى الأول ، وصرح الطبري وجماعة بالثاني وهو المعتمد . وقد أخرج ابن أبي داود في ” المصاحف ” عن أبي الطاهر بن أبي السرح قال : سألت ابن عيينة عن اختلاف قراءة المدنيين والعراقيين هل هي الأحرف السبعة ؟ قال : لا ، وإنما الأحرف السبعة مثل هلم وتعال وأقبل ، أي ذلك قلت أجزأك . قال : وقال لي ابن وهب مثله . ـ

Abu Shamah said:

The salaf differed regarding the seven ahruf in which the Qur’an was revealed: are all of the seven ahruf present in the mushaf that is in people’s hands today, or is it only one harf that we have? al-Baaqilaani leaned towards the first position, while al-Tabari and the majority of scholars explicitly stated the second, which is the generally-accepted position.

In Kitaab al-Musaahif, ibn Abi Dawud brings a report from Abu’l-Taahir ibn Abi’l-Sarh wherein he said,

“I asked ibn ‘Uyaynah about the differences between the reciters of al-Madinah and Iraq – are these the seven ahruf?” “No,” he replied, “the seven ahurf are only things like ‘approach’, ‘come here’ or ‘come on’.” Whichever one of those you say would suffice.”

And he also said:

ibn Wahb also told me something similar.

والحق أن الذي جمع في المصحف هو المتفق على إنزاله المقطوع به المكتوب بأمر النبي [ ص: 647 ] – صلى الله عليه وسلم – وفيه بعض ما اختلف فيه الأحرف السبعة لا جميعها ، كما وقع في المصحف المكي ” تجري من تحتها الأنهار ” في آخر ” براءة ” وفي غيره بحذف ” من ” وكذا ما وقع من اختلاف مصاحف الأمصار من عدة واوات ثابتة بعضها دون بعض ، وعدة هاءات وعدة لامات ونحو ذلك ، وهو محمول على أنه نزل بالأمرين معا ، وأمر النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – بكتابته لشخصين أو أعلم بذلك شخصا واحدا وأمره بإثباتهما على الوجهين ، وما عدا ذلك من القراءات مما لا يوافق الرسم فهو مما كانت القراءة جوزت به توسعة على الناس وتسهيلا ؛ فلما آل الحال إلى ما وقع من الاختلاف في زمن عثمان وكفر بعضهم بعضا اختاروا الاقتصار على اللفظ المأذون في كتابته وتركوا الباقي . قال الطبري : وصار ما اتفق عليه الصحابة من الاقتصار كمن اقتصر مما خير فيه على خصلة واحدة ، لأن أمرهم بالقراءة على الأوجه المذكورة لم يكن على سبيل الإيجاب بل على سبيل الرخصة . ـ

And the correct understanding is that everything in the mushaf is agreed to have been revealed by Allah – without any room for doubt about this – and written by the command of the Prophet, and that it contains some of the differences found between the seven ahruf but not all of them. For example, there is what comes at the end of surah al-Baraa’ [i.e. surah al-Tawbah] in the mushaf of Mecca:

تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ

… beneath which rivers flow [compare to 9:100]

while in the other recitations there word “min” is omitted. Likewise, there are the differences among the official musaahif which were sent to the major cities regarding the presence or absence of the letter waw in a number of places, as well as the letter haa in a number of places, and the letter laam in a number of places, and other things of this nature. These differences are explained by the fact that the Qur’an was revealed in both of these ways [e.g. both with a waw and without a waw] and that the Prophet commanded two different people to write each one, or that he taught both to one person and instructed him to record it in both ways.

And as for the qiraa’aat besides these which do not correspond to the text of the official ‘Uthmani mushaf, then these fall under that which was permitted as a means of ease and latitude for the people. But when the situation reached the differing that occurred during the time of ‘Uthman and people were declaring each other to be disbelievers [due to ignorance of the allowable differences between the seven ahruf], then the Sahabah decided to select one of the permitted wordings of the Qur’an for writing the official mushaf and leave the rest.

al-Tabari said:

The agreement that the Sahabah made to restrict the mushaf to just one harf is similar to when one has a choice in how to go about a matter and ultimately selects one way. This is because the aforementioned command to recite the Qur’an in multiple ways was not a command entailing an obligation, but rather it was a command entailing concession and ease.

قلت : ويدل عليه قوله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – في حديث الباب فاقرءوا ما تيسر منه وقد قرر الطبري ذلك تقريرا أطنب فيه ووهى من قال بخلافه ، ووافقه على ذلك جماعة منهم أبو العباس بن عمار في ” شرح الهداية ” وقال : أصح ما عليه الحذاق أن الذي يقرأ الآن بعض الحروف السبعة المأذون في قراءتها لا كلها ، وضابطه ما وافق رسم المصحف ، فأما ما خالفه مثل ” أن تبتغوا فضلا من ربكم في مواسم الحج ” ومثل ” إذا جاء فتح الله والنصر ” فهو من تلك القراءات التي تركت إن صح السند بها ، ولا يكفي صحة سندها في إثبات كونها قرآنا ، ولا سيما والكثير منها مما يحتمل أن يكون من التأويل الذي قرن إلى التنزيل فصار يظن أنه منه . ـ

I [ibn Hajr] say: This is supported by the Prophet’s statement that came in the hadith in this chapter:

فَاقْرَءُوا مَا تَيَسَّرَ مِنْهُ

So recite whatever of it is easy for you

And al-Tabari staunchly affirmed and defended this position and held those who disagreed to have no sound basis. But a substantial group agreed with him. Among them was Abu’l-Abbaas ibn ‘Ammaar in Sharh al-Hidayah, where he said:

The most correct position which the great minds have arrived at is that what is recited today is part of the seven huroof which we were permitted to recite the Qur’an in, not all of them. And the criterion for what is part of the Qur’an is what corresponds to and matches with the text of the official ‘Uthmani mushaf. As for what does differs with it, such as

أَنْ تَبْتَغُوا فَضْلًا مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ فِي مَوَاسِمِ الْحَجِّ

that you seek bounty from your Lord during the season of Hajj [compare to 2:198]

or such as

إِذَا جَاءَ فَتْحُ اللَّهِ وَالنَّصْرُ

When the victory of Allah and His aid come [compare to 110:1]

then these are some of the qiraa’aat which are not used, even if they have an authentic chain of narration, for an authentic chain of narration is not enough to verify that they are actually part of the Qur’an. This is especially the case, as frequently happens, with things that may just be someone’s explanation that was linked with his recitation, as a result of which some people thought that the explanation was part of his recitation.

وقال البغوي في ” شرح السنة ” : المصحف الذي استقر عليه الأمر هو آخر العرضات على رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – ، فأمر عثمان بنسخه في المصاحف وجمع الناس عليه ، وأذهب ما سوى ذلك قطعا لمادة الخلاف ، فصار ما يخالف خط المصحف في حكم المنسوخ والمرفوع كسائر ما نسخ ورفع ، فليس لأحد أن يعدو في اللفظ إلى ما هو خارج عن الرسم ـ

al-Baghawi said in Sharh al-Sunnah:

The mushaf which became the official mushaf was the final review of the Qur’an which the angel Jibril did with Allah’s Messenger. So ‘Uthman ordered that this recitation to be recorded in the mushafs and he united the people on it while all others were done away with in order to cut off any cause of differing. So whatever differed from the script of the official ‘Uthmani mushaf took on the ruling of abrogated and was treated as any other abrogated thing. So it is not appropriate for anyone to turn away from the script of the official ‘Uthmani mushaf in favor of something else.

وقال أبو شامة : ظن قوم أن القراءات السبع الموجودة الآن هي التي أريدت في الحديث ، وهو خلاف إجماع أهل العلم قاطبة ، وإنما يظن ذلك بعض أهل الجهل . ـ

Abu Shamah said:

Some people think that the seven qiraa’aat which we have now were what was meant in the hadeeth about the seven ahruf, but this goes against the complete and total consensus of the scholars. The only people who think that are some of the ignorant folks.

وقال ابن عمار أيضا : لقد فعل مسبع هذه السبعة ما لا ينبغي له ، وأشكل الأمر على العامة بإيهامه كل من قل نظره أن هذه القراءات هي المذكورة في الخبر ، وليته إذ اقتصر نقص عن السبعة أو زاد ليزيل الشبهة ، ووقع له أيضا في اقتصاره عن كل إمام على راويين أنه صار من سمع قراءة راو ثالث غيرهما أبطلها ، وقد تكون هي أشهر وأصح وأظهر وربما بالغ من لا يفهم فخطأ أو كفر . ـ

ibn ‘Ammaar also said:

The one who made these seven qiraa’aat into a set ought not to have done that, as this caused confusion for the lay-people by giving anyone who hasn’t investigated this issue the false idea that the qiraa’aat are restricted only to these. If only he had set the number lower or higher than seven in order to avoid this doubt! And he also limited himself to choosing two transmitters for each one of the seven reciters, and so a person who hears of a third or a fourth transmitter of any one of these reciters would reject it! This third or fourth transmitter could be more well-known, have a more authentic chain of transmission, and be more clear in terms of the language – and perhaps someone without understanding would go overboard and declare that to be a mistake or even an act of disbelief!

  وقال أبو بكر بن العربي : ليست هذه السبعة متعينة للجواز حتى لا يجوز غيرها كقراءة أبي جعفر وشيبة والأعمش ونحوهم ، فإن هؤلاء مثلهم أو فوقهم . وكذا قال غير واحد منهم مكي بن أبي طالب وأبو العلاء الهمداني وغيرهم من أئمة القراء . ـ

Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi said:

These seven well-known qiraa’aat are not the only ones that are permissible such that others like the qiraa’aat of Abu Ja’far, Shaybah, al-A’mash, etc. are not allowed. No, those ones are on a similar level or even higher than the seven.

And a number of other scholars, such as Makki ibn Abi Taalib, Abu’l-‘Alaa’ al-Hamdani, and other experts in the qiraa’aat have voiced opinions similar to this.

وقال أبو حيان : ليس في كتاب ابن مجاهد ومن تبعه من القراءات المشهورة إلا النزر اليسير ، فهذا أبو عمرو بن العلاء اشتهر عنه سبعة عشر راويا ، ثم ساق أسماءهم . ـ

واقتصر في كتاب ابن مجاهد على اليزيدي ، واشتهر عن اليزيدي عشرة أنفس فكيف يقتصر على السوسي والدوري وليس لهما مزية على غيرهما لأن الجميع مشتركون في الضبط والإتقان والاشتراك في الأخذ

قال : ولا أعرف لهذا سببا إلا ما قضى من نقص العلم فاقتصر هؤلاء على السبعة ثم اقتصر من بعدهم من السبعة على النزر اليسير . ـ

Abu Hayyaan said:

The listing of the well-known qiraa’aat that we find in the book of ibn Mujahid and those who followed him is really only a small part of the whole picture, for it is well-known that Abu ‘Amr ibn al-‘Alaa’ [one of the seven reciters] had 17 people who transmitted his qiraa’ah from him.

And then he proceeded to list these 17 by name.

When selecting transmitters of the qiraa’ah of Abu ‘Amr for his book, ibn Mujahid limited himself only to those who had learned that qiraa’ah from al-Yazeedi, and there were ten well-known people who transmitted it by way of al-Yazeedi. So then why did ibn Mujahid restrict his list to only al-Sousi and al-Dowri when these two didn’t have any special distinction above any of the others, as all ten were equal in their precision, technical excellence and in whom they took from?

Abu Hayyaan said:

I don’t know of any reason for such a decision except for what would be the result of a deficiency in knowledge, for he limited his list to only the qiraa’aat of these seven, and then he also limited his list of those who transmitted these seven to only a small slice of the all those whom he could have included.

وقال أبو شامة : لم يرد ابن مجاهد ما نسب إليه ، بل أخطأ من نسب إليه ذلك ، وقد بالغ أبو طاهر بن أبي هاشم صاحبه في الرد على من نسب إليه أن مراده بالقراءات السبع الأحرف السبعة المذكورة في الحديث

Abu Shamah said:

Ibn Mujahid did not actually say what has been attributed to him; on the contrary, those who attributed that to him are in error, and his companion Abu Taahir ibn Abi Hishaam really exerted himself fully in his refutation of what was wrongly attributed to him – i.e. the claim that what ibn Mujahid meant by the seven qiraa’aat were the seven ahruf mentioned in the hadith.

قال ابن أبي هشام : إن السبب في اختلاف القراءات السبع وغيرها أن الجهات التي وجهت إليها المصاحف كان بها من [ ص: 648 ] الصحابة من حمل عنه أهل تلك الجهة ، وكانت المصاحف خالية من النقط والشكل ، قال : فثبت أهل كل ناحية على ما كانوا تلقوه سماعا عن الصحابة بشرط موافقة الخط ، وتركوا ما يخالف الخط ، امتثالا لأمر عثمان الذي وافقه عليه الصحابة لما رأوا في ذلك من الاحتياط للقرآن ، فمن ثم نشأ الاختلاف بين قراء الأمصار مع كونهم متمسكين بحرف واحد من السبعة . ـ

Ibn Abi Hishaam said:

The differences among the qiraa’aat – both the seven and others as well – arose due to the fact that when the official mushafs were sent out by ‘Uthman to the various regions, he sent each of them with a Sahabi who taught it to the people of that region, and those mushafs didn’t have any dots of tashkeel.

Ibn Abi Hishaam continued:

So the people of every region learned and stuck to what they had taken orally from the Sahabah, so long what they heard corresponded to the text of the mushaf, and they left whatever did not match the official text of the mushaf. This was done in compliance with the command of ‘Uthman, the command which the Sahabah had agreed to due to their view that it would be a protection of the Qur’an. Then, later, differences emerged among the reciters of the major cities despite them all adhering to just one of the seven ahruf.

وقال مكي بن أبي طالب : هذه القراءات التي يقرأ بها اليوم وصحت رواياتها عن الأئمة جزء من الأحرف السبعة التي نزل بها القرآن . ثم ساق نحو ما تقدم ، قال : وأما من ظن أن قراءة هؤلاء القراء كنافع وعاصم هي الأحرف السبعة التي في الحديث فقد غلط غلطا عظيما ، قال : ويلزم من هذا أن ما خرج عن قراءة هؤلاء السبعة مما ثبت عن الأئمة غيرهم ووافق خط المصحف أن لا يكون قرآنا ، وهذا غلط عظيم ، فإن الذين صنفوا القراءات من الأئمة المتقدمين – كأبي عبيد القاسم بن سلام ، وأبي حاتم السجستاني ، وأبي جعفر الطبري ، وإسماعيل بن إسحاق ، والقاضي – قد ذكروا أضعاف هؤلاء

Makki ibn Abi Taalib said:

These qiraa’aat which are recited today whose chains of narration from the experts in recitation are well-established are just one part of the seven ahruf in which the Qur’an was revealed.

Makki then discussed some issues similar to what we had mentioned above, and then said:

But as for those who think that these qiraa’aat such as the qiraa’ah of Naafi’ or ‘Aasim are the seven ahruf mentioned in the hadith, then this person is terribly mistaken.

He continued:

Such a belief as that would entail that whatever falls outside of these seven qiraa’aat – even if it is authentically transmitted from the experts of recitation or anyone less than them and corresponds to the text of the official ‘Uthmani mushaf – would not be the Qur’an. And that would be a tremendous mistake. Indeed, those great past scholars who wrote the well-known works on the qiraa’aat – such as Abu ‘Ubayd al-Qaasim ibn Salaam, Abu Haatim al-Sijistaani, Abu Ja’far al-Tabari, Ismaa’eel ibn Ishaaq, and al-Qaadhi – have all mentioned the weakness of such a view.

قلت : اقتصر أبو عبيدة في كتابه على خمسة عشر رجلا من كل مصر ثلاثة أنفس فذكر من مكة ابن كثير وابن محيصن ، وحميدا الأعرج ومن أهل المدينة أبا جعفر وشيبة ونافعا ومن أهل البصرة ، أبا عمرو ، وعيسى بن عمر ، وعبد الله بن أبي إسحاق ، ومن أهل الكوفة يحيى بن وثاب ، وعاصما ، والأعمش ومن أهل الشام عبد الله بن عامر ، ويحيى بن الحارث .ـ

قال : وذهب عني اسم الثالث ولم يذكر في الكوفيين حمزة ، ولا الكسائي بل قال : إن جمهور أهل الكوفة بعد الثلاثة صاروا إلى قراءة حمزة ولم يجتمع عليه جماعتهم قال : وأما الكسائي فكان يتخير القراءات . فأخذ من قراءة الكوفيين بعضا وترك بعضا وقال بعد أن ساق أسماء من نقلت عنه القراءة من الصحابة والتابعين : فهؤلاء هم الذين يحكى عنهم عظم القراءة وإن كان الغالب عليهم الفقه والحديث ، قال : ثم قام بعدهم بالقراءات قوم ليست لهم أسنانهم ولا تقدمهم غير أنهم تجردوا للقراءة واشتدت عنايتهم بها وطلبهم لها حتى صاروا بذلك أئمة يقتدي الناس بهم فيها فذكرهم ، وذكر أبو حاتم زيادة على عشرين رجلا ولم يذكر فيهم ابن عامر ولا حمزة ولا الكسائي ، وذكر الطبري في كتابه اثنين وعشرين رجلا

I [ibn Hajr] say: In his book on the qiraa’aat, Abu ‘Ubaydah limited himself to 15 men in total, choosing the best three reciters from each of the major cities.

  • For Mecca he selected: ibn Kathir, ibn Muhaysin, and Humayd al-A’raj.
  • For al-Madinah he selected: Abu Ja’far, Shaybah, and Naafi’.
  • For Basra he selected: Abu ‘Amr, ‘Eesaa ibn ‘Umar, and ‘Abdullah ibn Abi Ishaaq.
  • For al-Kufah he selected: Yahya ibn Waththaab, ‘Aasim, and al-A’mash.
  • From Syria he selected: ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Aamir and Yahyah ibn al-Haarith.

Makki said:

The name of the third person from Syria escapes me.

And he did not mention Hamzah or al-Kisaa’i for the people of al-Kufah, instead he said:

After those three, a group of the people of al-Kufah went to the qiraa’ah of Hamzah, but not all of the people agreed about this.

And he said:

But as for al-Kisaa’i, the people preferred his qiraa’ah.

So he mentioned some of the qiraa’aat of the people of al-Kufah but neglected others. After listing the names of those who transmitted the qiraa’aat from the Sahabah and Taabi’oon, he said:

These were the people from whom the great qiraa’aah were transmitted despite their being also busy with the issues of al-fiqh and al-hadith.

He also said:

Then after those people, a generation of younger people took the mantle of the qiraa’aat and there is nothing to say about them except that they focused exclusively on the qiraa’aat and gave great attention and care to that and continued to seek knowledge in that field until they then became its leaders whose recitations were followed and emulated by the people

and then he mentioned who they were. And Abu Haatim also mentioned an additional ten men whom Makki hadn’t included, among them being ibn ‘Aamir, Hamzah, and al-Kasaa’i. And al-Tabari mentioned 22 men in his book on this subject.

قال مكي : وكان الناس على رأس المائتين بالبصرة على قراءة أبي عمرو ويعقوب ، وبالكوفة على قراءة حمزة وعاصم وبالشام على قراءة ابن عامر ، وبمكة على قراءة ابن كثير ، وبالمدينة على قراءة نافع ، واستمروا على ذلك . فلما كان على رأس الثلاثمائة أثبت ابن مجاهد اسم الكسائي وحذف يعقوب ، قال : والسبب في الاقتصار على السبعة مع أن في أئمة القراء من هو أجل منهم قدرا ومثلهم أكثر من عددهم أن الرواة عن الأئمة كانوا كثيرا جدا ، فلما تقاصرت الهمم اقتصروا – مما يوافق خط المصحف – على ما يسهل حفظه وتنضبط القراءة به ، فنظروا إلى من اشتهر بالثقة والأمانة وطول العمر في ملازمة القراءة والاتفاق على الأخذ عنه فأفردوا من كل مصر إماما واحدا ، ولم يتركوا – مع ذلك – نقل ما كان عليه الأئمة غير هؤلاء من القراءات ولا القراءة به كقراءة يعقوب وعاصم الجحدري وأبي جعفر وشيبة وغيرهم

Makki said:

In the beginning of the third century, the people of al-Basrah were people following the qiraa’ah of Abu ‘Amr and Ya’qub. In al-Kufah, they were following the qiraa’ah of Hamzah and ‘Aasim. In Syria they were following the qiraa’ah of ibn ‘Aamir. In Mecca they were following the qiraa’ah of ibn Kathir. In al-Madinah they were following the qiraa’ah of Naafi’. And it continued on like that.

Then at the beginning of the forth century ibn Mujahid selected al-Kisaa’i for his list and omitted Ya’qub.

Makki continued:

The reason that ibn Mujahid limited his list to only these seven despite there being other expert reciters beyond these seven of even greater or equal status is that there were so many routes of transmission from these expert reciters. So when attention was focused in on these seven, the people were then able to focus on those qiraa’aat which were easy to memorize – among those which were in agreement with the text of the official ‘Uthmani mushaf, of course – and to perfect the recitation of those. The scholars searched for those reciters who were well-known for being reliable in transmission, and characterized by being trustworthy, being devoted to recitation for many years, and that there was general agreement about learning from them. So the scholars selected one reciter from each of the major cities. But despite that, the scholars did not abandon transmitting the qiraa’aat of other expert reciters outside of these seven, nor did they abandon reciting with other recitations, such as those of Ya’qub, ‘Aasim al-Jahdari, Abu Ja’far, Shaybah, etc.

قال : وممن اختار من القراءات كما اختار الكسائي أبو عبيد وأبو حاتم والمفضل وأبو جعفر الطبري وغيرهم وذلك واضح في تصانيفهم في ذلك ، وقد صنف ابن جبير المكي وكان قبل ابن مجاهد كتابا في القراءات فاقتصر على خمسة ، اختار من كل مصر إماما ، وإنما اقتصر على ذلك لأن المصاحف التي أرسلها عثمان كانت خمسة إلى هذه الأمصار ، ويقال : إنه وجه بسبعة هذه الخمسة ومصحفا إلى اليمن ومصحفا إلى البحرين لكن لم نسمع لهذين المصحفين خبرا ، وأراد ابن مجاهد وغيره مراعاة عدد المصاحف فاستبدلوا من غير البحرين واليمن قارئين يكمل بهما العدد فصادف ذلك موافقة العدد الذي ورد الخبر بها وهو أن القرآن أنزل على سبعة أحرف ، [ ص: 649 ] فوقع ذلك لمن لم يعرف أصل المسألة ولم يكن له فطنة فظن أن المراد بالقراءات السبع الأحرف السبعة ، ولا سيما وقد كثر استعمالهم الحرف في موضع القراءة فقالوا : قرأ بحرف نافع بحرف ابن كثير ، فتأكد الظن بذلك وليس الأمر كما ظنه  ـ

Makki also said:

Among those who selected the qiraa’aat that became widely accepted, such as selecting al-Kisaa’i, were Abu Ubayd, Abu Haatim, al-Mufadhdhal, Abu Ja’far al-Tabari, and others. And this is clear to see in their written works about this subject. And even before ibn Mujahid, ibn Jubayr al-Makki authored a book on the qiraa’aat in which he set his number at five, selecting one imam from each of the major cities. His reasoning for sticking to only five was because the number of mushafs that ‘Uthman sent to the major cities was five.

And some say that the rationale for choosing seven was based on those five mushafs and then a mushaf that was sent to Yemen and another that was sent to Bahrain; however we haven’t heard anything about what came of these last two mushafs. But ibn Mujahid and others wanted their lists to match with the number of mushafs that were originally sent out, so in place of those that were sent to Bahrain and Yemen that selected two other qiraa’aat to complete the numbering of their lists, thereby causing their number to coincide and match with the number of ahruf which we have been taught that the Qur’an was revealed in. But as a result of that, those who were not familiar with this issue or who were not particularly discerning thought that the seven qiraa’aat were one and the same as the seven ahruf. And this problem was only compounded by many people using the word harf in place of the word qiraa’ah and saying, “so-and-so recites according to the harf of Naafi'” or “according to the harf of ibn Kathir”. So that only served to reinforce this conflation, but things are not as they suppose.

    والأصل المعتمد عليه عند الأئمة في ذلك أنه الذي يصح سنده في السماع ويستقيم وجهه في العربية ويوافق خط المصحف ، وربما زاد بعضهم الاتفاق عليه ونعني بالاتفاق كما قال مكي بن أبي طالب ما اتفق عليه قراء المدينة والكوفة ولا سيما إذا اتفق نافع وعاصم ، قال : وربما أرادوا بالاتفاق ما اتفق عليه أهل الحرمين ، قال : وأصح القراءات سندا نافع وعاصم ، وأفصحها أبو عمرو والكسائي

The foundational principle which the scholars refer to in regards to the qiraa’aat is that whatever

  1. has a sound chain of oral transmission,
  2. is correct in terms of the Arabic language, and
  3. corresponds to the official text of the ‘Uthmani mushaf

is an acceptable qiraa’ah.

And perhaps some scholars also stipulated a forth condition that a qiraa’ah must be “agreed upon”, by which we mean what Makki ibn Abi Taalib said: “That in which the reciters of Madinah and al-Kufah agreed, especially if Naafi’ and ‘Aasim agreed.” And he said, “And perhaps what the meant by this ‘agreement’ was what the reciters of Mecca and Madinah agreed on.” And he also said, “The qiraa’aat which have the soundest chains of transmission are Naafi’ and ‘Aasim. And those which are the most eloquent in terms of language are Abu ‘Amr and al-Kisaa’i.”

وقال ابن السمعاني [1] في ” الشافي ” : التمسك بقراءة سبعة من القراء دون غيرهم ليس فيه أثر ولا سنة ، وإنما هو من جمع بعض المتأخرين فانتشر رأيهم أنه لا تجوز الزيادة على ذلك . قال : وقد صنف غيره في السبع أيضا فذكر شيئا كثيرا من الروايات عنهم غير ما في كتابه ، فلم يقل أحد إنه لا تجوز القراءة بذلك لخلو ذلك المصحف عنه . ـ

Ibn al-Sam’aani said in al-Shaafee:

There is nothing from the sunnah or from the statements of the salaf to support limiting oneself to only the qiraa’aat of the seven well-known reciters to the exclusion of any others. The grouping of these seven was only something done by one of the later scholars, and only after that did this view that it is not permissible to add any others spread.

He continued by saying:

And others besides that later scholar have also written on this subject, wherein they mentioned a number of chains of transmission going back to these seven reciters which were not listed in his book. And no one claims that it is impermissible to recite with these other chains of transmission just because his collection doesn’t mention them.

وقال أبو الفضل الرازي في ” اللوائح ” بعد أن ذكر الشبهة التي من أجلها ظن الأغبياء أن أحرف الأئمة السبعة هي المشار إليها في الحديث وأن الأئمة بعد ابن مجاهد جعلوا القراءات ثمانية أو عشرة لأجل ذلك ، قال : واقتفيت أثرهم لأجل ذلك ، وأقول : لو اختار إمام من أئمة القراء حروفا وجرد طريقا في القراءة بشرط الاختيار لم يكن ذلك خارجا عن الأحرف السبعة . ـ

After mentioning the doubts on account of which some ignorant people think that the dialects of the seven well-known reciters are what the hadeeth of the Prophet was referring to and after mentioning that some of the scholars after Abu Bakr ibn Mujahid made their own lists of the qiraa’aat which included eight or ten recitations in response to those doubts, Abu’l-Fadhl al-Razi then mentioned the following in his book al-Lawaa’ih:

I researched their chains of transmission because of these doubts, and I can say: If any one of the scholars from the experts in Qur’anic recitation were to pick a certain transmitted recitation and make sure that the chain of transmission fulfilled the conditions for acceptance, then that recitation does not fall outside of the seven ahruf.

وقال الكواشي : كل ما صح سنده واستقام وجهه في العربية ووافق لفظه خط المصحف الإمام فهو من السبعة المنصوصة فعلى هذا الأصل بني قبول القراءات عن سبعة كانوا أو سبعة آلاف ، ومتى فقد شرط من الثلاثة فهو الشاذ

al-Kawaashi said:

Every recitation whose chain of transmission is sound, which is correct according to Arabic grammar, and which matches with the script of the official ‘Uthmani mushaf, then this falls within those seven ahurf mentioned in the prophetic narrations. So based on this understanding, such qiraa’aat are acceptable whether they are seven or seven thousand in number. But when a recitation fails to fulfill one of these three conditions, then it is shadh [non-canonical].

   قلت : وإنما أوسعت القول في هذا لما تجدد في الأعصار المتأخرة من توهم أن القراءات المشهورة منحصرة في مثل ” التيسير ” والشاطبية ، وقد اشتد إنكار أئمة هذا الشأن على من ظن ذلك كأبي شامة وأبي حيان ، وآخر من صرح بذلك السبكي فقال : في ” شرح المنهاج ” عند الكلام على القراءة بالشاذ صرح كثير من الفقهاء بأن ما عدا السبعة شاذ توهما منه انحصار المشهور فيها ، والحق أن الخارج عن السبعة على قسمين : الأول : ما يخالف رسم المصحف فلا شك في أنه ليس بقرآن ، والثاني : ما لا يخالف رسم المصحف وهو على قسمين أيضا : الأول : ما ورد من طريق غريبة فهذا ملحق بالأول ، والثاني : ما اشتهر عند أئمة هذا الشأن القراءة به قديما وحديثا فهذا لا وجه للمنع منه كقراءة يعقوب وأبي جعفر وغيرهما

I [ibn Hajar] say: This idea that only the seven well-known qiraa’aat are acceptable only became widespread when it was revived in more recent times by those who incorrectly thought that the acceptable qiraa’aat where limited to those mentioned by al-Shaatibi in his book al-Taysir. And the scholars, Abu Shamah and Abu Hayyaan for instance, have strongly disapproved of that notion.

More recently, al-Subki also explicitly censured this notion in his book Sharh al-Manhaj. In the midst of his discussion about reciting shadh recitations, he said:

A number of experts in fiqh have explicitly said that whatever is outside of the seven well-known recitations is shadh, based on a incorrect assumption that the acceptable recitations were restricted to those seven. But the truth of the matter is that the recitations which are not part of those seven well-known ones fall into one of two categories.

1) Those which do not match with the official ‘Uthmani mushaf. There is no doubt that these are not actually the Qur’an.
2) Those which do not differ from the official ‘Uthmani mushaf. This category is also divided into two subcategories.

2a) That which comes through a singular route of transmission, so this takes the same ruling as category #1 above, and
2b) That whose recitation is well-known among the experts in the field throughout the generations. So there is no justification for barring anyone from reciting any of these, for example the recitation of Ya’qub, Abu Ja’far, or other similar ones.

[Fath al-Bari under hadith #4706]

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

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

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

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

See also: The Dispute Between ‘Umar and Hisham: Ibn Hajr

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

9 thoughts on “Clarification on the Ahruf and Qiraa’aat of the Qur’an: ibn Hajr

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  4. Pingback: The Early History of the Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti | Tulayhah

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  9. Pingback: Where Do the Differences in the Qiraa’aat Come From?: ibn Taymiyah | Tulayhah

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