Clarification on the Qiraa’aat and the Ahruf: al-Qurtubi

In the introduction to his famous book of tafsir, Imam al-Qurtubi dedicated one section to discussing the meaning of the Prophet’s statement that the Qur’an was revealed in seven ahruf. He concluded that section and segued into the next by writing:

وقد قيل : إن المراد بقوله عليه السلام : أنزل القرآن على سبعة أحرف القراءات السبع التي قرأ بها القراء السبعة ; لأنها كلها صحت عن رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – ، وهذا ليس بشيء لظهور بطلانه على ما يأتي . ـ

And some have said that the meaning of the Prophet’s statement, “The Qur’an was sent down in seven ahruf” is that it is referring to the seven qiraa’aat which were recited by the seven famous reciters because all of these can be authentically traced back to Allah’s Messenger. But this position is not worth consideration due to its clear falsity, as we will see.

فصل في القراءات ونسبتها
Regarding the Qiraa’aat and their Attribution

قال كثير من علمائنا كالداودي وابن أبي صفرة وغيرهما : هذه القراءات السبع التي تنسب لهؤلاء القراء السبعة ، ليست هي الأحرف السبعة التي اتسعت الصحابة في القراءة بها ، وإنما هي راجعة إلى حرف واحد من تلك السبعة ، وهو الذي جمع عليه عثمان المصحف ، ذكره ابن النحاس وغيره . وهذه القراءات المشهورة هي اختيارات أولئك الأئمة القراء ، وذلك أن كل واحد منهم اختار فيما روى وعلم وجهه من القراءات ما هو الأحسن عنده والأولى ، فالتزمه طريقة ورواه وأقرأ به واشتهر عنه ، وعرف به ونسب إليه ، فقيل : حرف نافع ، وحرف ابن كثير ; ولم يمنع واحد منهم اختيار الآخر ولا أنكره بل سوغه وجوزه وكل واحد من هؤلاء السبعة روي عنه اختياران أو أكثر ، وكل صحيح . وقد أجمع المسلمون في هذه الأعصار على الاعتماد على ما صح عن هؤلاء الأئمة مما رووه ورأوه من القراءات وكتبوا في ذلك مصنفات ، فاستمر الإجماع على الصواب ، وحصل ما وعد الله به من حفظ الكتاب ، وعلى هذه الأئمة المتقدمون والفضلاء المحققون كالقاضي أبي بكر بن الطيب والطبري وغيرهما . ـ

Many of our scholars, such as al-Dawudi and ibn Abi Sufrah have said that these seven qiraa’aat which are ascribed to these seven famous reciters are not the seven ahruf which the Sahabah were permitted to recite with, but that these seven qiraa’aat all go back to one single harf out of those seven, which is the one that ‘Uthman collected in the official ‘Uthmani mushaf. That was mentioned by ibn al-Nahaas and others.

These well-known qiraa’aat were those selected by the seven well-known leading reciters. And by selection, we mean that every one of them chose that which seemed best and most proper to him out of the recitations which had been transmitted to him and which he had learned how to recite. Each one them committed himself to his chosen recitation and continued its chain of transmission, transmitting it, reciting it, and becoming known for it. He would become associated with it and it would be attributed to him, such that people would say “the harf of Naafi'” or “the harf of ibn Kathir.” But none of them prohibited having more than one selected recitation or criticized that. On the contrary, they authorized and permitted that, and at least two selected recitations have been relayed from each one of these seven leading reciters, with all of them being acceptable.

In this era, consensus has been reached among the Muslims to rely on the qiraa’aat which have been authentically transmitted from these seven leading reciters and recorded in the books on this topic. And consensus remains on what is correct, and in this way the preservation of the Qur’an that Allah promised has been achieved. This was the position of the previous leading and discerning scholars such as al-Qaadhi Abu Bakr ibn al-Tayyib, al-Tabari, and others.

قال ابن عطية : ومضت الأعصار والأمصار على قراءة السبعة وبها يصلى لأنها ثبتت بالإجماع ; وأما شاذ القراءات فلا يصلى به لأنه لم يجمع الناس عليه ، أما أن المروي منه عن الصحابة رضي الله عنهم وعن علماء التابعين ، فلا يعتقد فيه إلا أنهم رووه وأما ما يؤثر عن أبي السمال ومن قارنه فإنه لا يوثق به .  ـ

ibn ‘Atiyyah said:

The major cities throughout the different ages have continued to follow the seven famous qiraa’aat and to use them in the prayers because they have been affirmed by consensus. But as for those shadh [non-canonical] qiraa’aat, one should not use them in the prayers because they have not been met with consensus. As for those shadh qiraa’aat which have been relayed from the Sahabah and the scholars of the Taabi’oon, then the only stance we take towards them is that they did relay it. But as for those shadh qiraa’aat which have been transmitted from Abu al-Sammaal[1] and his likes, then we do not accept these.

قال غيره : أما شاذ القراءة عن [ ص: 56 ] المصاحف المتواترة فليست بقرآن ، ولا يعمل بها على أنها منه ، وأحسن محاملها أن تكون بيان تأويل مذهب من نسبت إليه كقراءة ابن مسعود : فصيام ثلاثة أيام متتابعات . فأما لو صرح الراوي بسماعها من رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – فاختلف العلماء في العمل بذلك على قولين : النفي والإثبات ; وجه النفي أن الراوي لم يروه في معرض الخبر بل في معرض القرآن ، ولم يثبت فلا يثبت . والوجه الثاني أنه وإن لم يثبت كونه قرآنا فقد ثبت كونه سنة ، وذلك يوجب العمل كسائر أخبار الآحاد . ـ

And someone else said: As for the shadh qiraa’aat which do not match any of the official ‘Uthmani mushafs whose contents have been relayed via mutawaatir transmission, then that is not Qur’an nor should it be treated as if it were. The best way to deal with it is to take it as an explanation of the understanding of whoever it is attributed to. Take, for instance, the recitation of ibn Mas’ood:

فَصِيَامُ ثَلَاثَةِ أَيَّامٍ مُتَتَابِعَاتٍ

So the fasting is three consecutive days [compare to 5:89]

As for a shadh recitation which the transmitter explicitly says that he heard from Allah’s Messenger, then the scholars have differed about how to treat such a thing. Their differences fell into two camps: 1) negating the recitation, or 2) affirming it.

The reasoning for negating it is that the transmitter who relayed this was not presenting a hadith but instead was presenting Qur’an [which has a different standard of verification and authentication], but what he presented was not found to meet the requirements for authentication for it is not deemed authentic.

The other approach [of affirming it] is that even if it cannot be reliably deemed to be Qur’an, it can be reliably deemed to be from the sunnah which would then entail that we act upon it upon as we would with any hadith that does not reach the level of mutawaatir transmission.

فصل في ذكر معنى حديث عمر بن الخطاب وهشام بن حكيم
Explaining the Hadith of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and Hisham ibn Hakeem

قال ابن عطية : أباح الله تعالى لنبيه عليه السلام هذه الحروف السبعة ، وعارضه بها جبريل عليه السلام في عرضاته على الوجه الذي فيه الإعجاز وجودة الرصف ، ولم تقع الإباحة في قوله عليه السلام : فاقرءوا ما تيسر منه بأن يكون كل واحد من الصحابة إذا أراد أن يبدل اللفظة من بعض هذه اللغات جعلها من تلقاء نفسه ، ولو كان هذا لذهب إعجاز القرآن ، وكان معرضا أن يبدل هذا وهذا حتى يكون غير الذي نزل من عند الله ، وإنما وقعت الإباحة في الحروف السبعة للنبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – ليوسع بها على أمته ، فأقرأ مرة لأبي بما عارضه به جبريل ، ومرة لابن مسعود بما عارضه به أيضا ; وعلى هذا تجيء قراءة عمر بن الخطاب لسورة ” الفرقان ” ، وقراءة هشام بن حكيم لها ، وإلا فكيف يستقيم أن يقول النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – في كل قراءة منهما وقد اختلفا : ” هكذا أقرأني جبريل ” هل ذلك إلا أنه أقرأه مرة بهذه ومرة بهذه ؟ ! وعلى هذا يحمل قول أنس حين قرأ : ( إن ناشئة الليل هي أشد وطأ وأصوب قيلا ) فقيل له : إنما نقرأ وأقوم قيلا ! . فقال أنس : وأصوب قيلا ، وأقوم قيلا وأهيأ ، واحد ; فإنما معنى هذا أنها مروية عن النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – ، وإلا فلو كان هذا لأحد من الناس أن يضعه لبطل معنى قوله تعالى : إنا نحن نزلنا الذكر وإنا له لحافظون [ الحجر : 9 ] ـ

Ibn ‘Atiyyah said:

It was Allah who allowed these seven huroof for His prophet, and Jibril presented them to him in their annual reviews of the Qur’an, and all of this was part of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an and its ability to scaffold so much information onto its text.

This allowance did not come from the Prophet’s statement, “So recite whatever of it is easy for you,” such that any one of the Sahabah who wished could replace a word of phrase of the Qur’an with another from a different dialect as he saw fit. If that were the case, then the miraculous nature of the Qur’an would cease to be; it would be compromised that this and that could be replaced until it would not longer be what had been revealed from Allah.

This allowance of the seven huroof was only granted to the Prophet in order that it would make things easy for his ummah. So he would recite to Ubay according to what Jibril had presented him one time, and he would recite to ibn Mas’ood with something else Jibril had also presented to him another time.

It was in this way that we arrive at ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s recitation of surah al-Furqan one way and Hisham ibn Hakeem’s recitation of it another way. Otherwise, how could we understand the Prophet’s words about each one of their different recitations that, “Jirbil recited it to me like this.” Could it be any other way than that he recited it this way one time and this way another?

In this way we can interpret the statement of Anas when he recited:

إِنْ نَاشِئَةَ اللَّيْلِ هِيَ أَشَدُّ وَطْأً وَأَصْوَبُ قِيلًا

Indeed, standing in prayer during the night is more conducive to good and aswab qeela [compare to 73:6]

and then it was said to him, “We only recite it as:

وَأَقْوَمُ قِيلًا

aqwam qeela

So Anas  replied, “To say aswab qeela, or aqwab qeela, or ahwa’a – these are all one.”

So the only thing to be understood from this is that all of these came from the Prophet. Otherwise, if anyone was able to do such a thing then that would invalidate the meaning of Allah’s statement:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

Verily We: It is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Quran) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption). [15:9]

روى البخاري ومسلم وغيرهما عن عمر بن الخطاب قال : سمعت هشام بن حكيم يقرأ سورة ” الفرقان ” على غير ما أقرأها ، وكان رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – أقرأنيها ، فكدت أن أعجل عليه ، ثم أمهلته حتى انصرف ثم لببته بردائه ، فجئت به رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – فقلت يا رسول الله ، إني سمعت هذا يقرأ سورة ” الفرقان ” على غير ما أقرأتنيها ! فقال رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : ” أرسله اقرأ ” فقرأ القراءة التي سمعته يقرأ ; فقال رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : هكذا أنزلت ثم قال لي : اقرأ فقرأت فقال : هكذا أنزلت إن هذا القرآن أنزل على سبعة أحرف فاقرؤوا ما تيسر منه . ـ

al-Bukhari, Muslim and others reported that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said:

I heard Hisham ibn Hakeem reciting surah al-Furqan in a different way than how I recited it while the Prophet himself had taught it to me. I almost rushed over to him to deal with it immediately, but instead I waited until he had finished praying and then I grabbed him by his shawl and brought him to Allah’s Messenger. I said, “O Messenger of Allah, I heard this man reciting surah al-Furqan in a different way that how you recited it to me!” So Allah’s Messenger said, “Let him go. Recite.” So he recited it in the same way that I had heard him recite it before. Then Allah’s Messenger said, “It was revealed like that.” Then he said to me, “Recite,” so I recited, and he said, “It was revealed like that. This Qur’an was sent down in seven ahruf, so recite whichever one of them is easy for you.”

[Tafsir al-Qurtubi 1/55-56]

[1] Translator’s Note: Ibn al-Sammaal, also sometimes referred to as ibn al-Sammaak, was Qa’nab ibn Hilaal ibn Abi Qa’nab al-‘Adawi al-Basri, who is believed to have died around the year 160 A.H. He was an expert in grammar, a reciter, and most famous for reciting with shadh [non-canonical] recitation of the Qur’an that differed from the well-known and authentic qiraa’aat. Imam al-Dhahabi and ibn al-Jazari both found his qiraa’aat to have an untenable and inauthentic chain of narration. [See Ma’rifah al-Qurraa’ al-Kibaar 4/352 and Ghayah al-Nihayah 2/27]

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

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

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

See also: Qiraa’aat Article Index

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

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

2 thoughts on “Clarification on the Qiraa’aat and the Ahruf: al-Qurtubi

  1. Pingback: The Dispute Between ‘Umar and Hisham: Ibn Hajr | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: Clarification on the Ahruf and Qiraa’aat of the Qur’an: ibn Hajr | Tulayhah

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