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

It is well-known to those familiar with the Qur’an that there are multiple canonical recitations (qiraa’aat) which are all authentic based upon meeting certain conditions and which add to the meaning of the Qur’an while not contradicting one another. Following from this, there are also non-canonical (shadh) recitations which do not meet these conditions for acceptance but can still be found within the books of tafsir and the sciences of the Qur’an. Some orientalists and missionaries attempt to use the mere existence of these non-canonical recitations to cast doubt on the authenticity of the Qur’an as a whole. This translated excerpt from the great scholar Imam al-Zarkashi explains one source of these non-canonical recitations and their value in understanding the Qur’an.

Badr al-Deen Muhammad al-Zarkashi, a student of the great mufassir Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir, is most well-known for authoring an extensive handbook for the Qur’anic sciences, al-Burhan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an. What follows is one section from his chapter dealing with the Qiraa’aat [variant Qur’anic recitations]:

الأمر الثامن : قال أبو عبيد في كتاب ” فضائل القرآن ” : إن القصد من القراءة الشاذة تفسير القراءة المشهورة وتبيين معانيها ; وذلك كقراءة عائشة وحفصة : ( حافظوا على الصلوات والصلاة الوسطى صلاة العصر ) ( البقرة : 238 ) . ـ

The eighth issue: In his book Fadhaa’il al-Qur’an, Abu ‘Ubayd wrote:

One point behind a non-canonical recitation of the Qur’an is to act as an explanation of a well-known canonical recitation and to clarify its meaning. That is like the recitation transmitted from ‘A’ishah and Hafsah:

حَافِظُوا عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ وَالصَّلَاةِ الْوُسْطَىٰ صلاة العصر

Strictly guard the prayers, especially the middle prayer – the ‘asr prayer [compare to 2:238]

وكقراءة ابن مسعود ( والسارق والسارقة فاقطعوا أيمانهما ) ( المائدة : 38 ) . ـ

Or like ibn Mas’ood’s recitation:

وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُوا أيمانهما

and the male and female thief – cut off their right hands [compare to 5:38]

ومثل قراءة أبي : ( للذين يؤلون من نسائهم تربص أربعة أشهر فإن فاءوا فيهن ) ( البقرة : 226 ) . ـ

And likewise with the recitation of Ubay:

لِّلَّذِينَ يُؤْلُونَ مِن نِّسَائِهِمْ تَرَبُّصُ أَرْبَعَةِ أَشْهُرٍ ۖ فَإِن فَاءُوا فيهن

Those who take an oath not to have sexual relation with their wives must wait four months, but if have sexual intercourse with them … [compare to 2:226]

وكقراءة سعد بن أبي وقاص : ( وإن كان له أخ أو أخت من أمه فلكل ) ( النساء : 12 ) . ـ

Or like the recitation of Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqaas:

وَإِن كَانَ وَلَهُ أَخٌ أَوْ أُخْتٌ من أمه فَلِكُلِّ

And if he has a brother or a sister from his mother, then for each one … [compare to 4:12]

وكما قرأ ابن عباس : ( لا جناح عليكم أن تبتغوا فضلا من ربكم في مواسم الحج ) ( البقرة : 198 ) . ـ

Or like the recitation of ibn ‘Abbaas:

لا جناح عليكم أَن تَبْتَغُوا فَضْلًا مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ في مواسم الحج

There is no sin on you if you seek bounties from your Lord during the Hajj seasons [compare to 2:198]

قلت : وكذا قراءته ( وأيقن أنه الفراق ) ( القيامة : 28 ) ، وقال : ذهب الظن ، قال أبو الفتح : ” يريد أنه ذهب اللفظ الذي يصلح للشك ; وجاء اللفظ الذي هو مصرح باليقين ” . انتهى . ـ

I [al-Zarkashi] would add: And likewise with his recitation of:

وأيقن أَنَّهُ الْفِرَاقُ

And the dying person is certain that it is the time of departing [compare to 75:28]

And ibn ‘Abbaas then said, “al-Thann (suspicion, doubt) has gone away [i.e. now is the time of certainty without any doubt]”. Abu’l-Fath commented on this saying, “He means that he has removed the word in this ayah that could be interpreted to imply doubt [i.e. al-thann] and replaced it with a word that makes the certainty plain and clear.” – end of quote.

وكقراءة جابر : ( فإن الله من بعد إكراههن لهن غفور رحيم ) ( النور : 33 ) . ـ

[al-Zarkhashi returns to quoting Abu ‘Ubayd here]

And like the recitation of Jaabir:

 فَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ مِن بَعْدِ إِكْرَاهِهِنَّ لهن غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

… then after such compulsion, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful towards them [compare to 24:33]

ـ [ ص: 487 ] فهذه الحروف وما شاكلها قد صارت مفسرة للقرآن ، وقد كان يروى مثل هذا عن بعض التابعين في التفسير فيستحسن ذلك ، فكيف إذا روي عن كبار الصحابة ، ثم صار في نفس القراءة ؟ فهو الآن أكثر من التفسير وأقوى ، فأدنى ما يستنبط من هذه الحروف معرفة صحة التأويل ، على أنها من العلم الذي لا يعرف العامة فضله ، إنما يعرف ذلك العلماء ، ولذلك يعتبر بهما وجه القرآن ; كقراءة من قرأ : ( يقص الحق ) ( الأنعام : 57 ) ، فلما وجدتها في قراءة عبد الله : ( يقضي الحق ) علمت أنها إنما هي : يقضي فقرأتها على ما في المصحف ، واعتبرت صحتها بتلك القراءة ، وكذلك قراءة من قرأ : ( أخرجنا لهم دابة من الأرض تكلمهم ) ( النمل : 82 ) ثم لما وجدتها في قراءة أبي ” تنبئهم ” علمت أن وجه القراءة ( تكلمهم ) في أشباه من هذا كثيرة . ـ

So these additional words and others like them act as explanations of the Qur’an, and this type of thing was also transmitted from some of the Taabi’oon in their explanations, which means that they approved of this. So then, what about when it is transmitted from the senior-most Sahabah, such that it occurs in their very recitation of the ayah? Then in that case it becomes more than just any explanation and carries more weight. So the very least that can be taken from these added words is knowing the authenticity of that interpretation. However this is a branch of knowledge whose worth the general people do not know; it is only the scholars who recognize it.

[end of quote from Abu ‘Ubayd]

So, following from this, the scholars take both the actual recitation and these explanatory explanations as part of the Qur’an. For example, there is the recitation of whoever recites:

يَقُصُّ الْحَقَّ

He relates the truth [literal translation of 6:57]

But then you may find the recitation of ibn Mas’ood:

يقضي الحق

He judges in truth [compare to 6:57]

and you know that the actual recitation only means “judges“. So you recite the ayah according to what is officially in the mushaf while you understand it correctly according to the explanatory recitation.

Another example is the recitation of whoever recites:

أَخْرَجْنَا لَهُمْ دَابَّةً مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ تُكَلِّمُهُمْ

We shall bring out from the earth a beast to them, which will speak to them [27:82]

then when you find it recited in the recitation of Ubay as:


… informs them …

you can know that this is the meaning of the recitation:


… speaks to them …

And there are many other examples like this

[Burhan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an 1/486-487]

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

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

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

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

See also: What about the Qiraa’ah of ibn Mas’ood?: Makki ibn Abi Taalib

See also: Preservation of the Wordings and Meanings of the Qur’an among the Salaf: Tafsir ibn Kathir

See also: Hasten to the Remembrance of Allah: Adhwaa’ al-Bayaan

12 thoughts on “Non-Canonical Recitations Can Help Explain the Qur’an: al-Zarkashi

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  2. Pingback: Tafsir of the Qur’an and its Connection to the Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: Clarifying some Misconceptions about the Seven Qiraa’aat: Ibn Taymiyah | Tulayhah

  4. Pingback: Hasten to the Remembrance of Allah: Adhwaa’ al-Bayaan | Tulayhah

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  6. Pingback: Transmitted Explanations of the Qur’an: al-Zarkashi | Tulayhah

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  9. Pingback: Clarification on the Qiraa’aat and the Ahruf: al-Qurtubi | Tulayhah

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