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J. Kashi

Readings of the Quran

The readings (qirā’āt, sg. qirā’a) represent the vast corpus of Quranic readings that are linked to the textual transmission and recitation of the Quran. It is to the skeletal text (rasm) of the Quran that all of these readings are ultimately bound, reflecting subtle variations in the linguistic features of the text. The nature of variance among these readings ranges from differences and distinctions which occur at the morphosyntactic and morphophonological levels of the Quranic text and are seemingly of an infinitesimal countenance, to those in which the nature of variance is more pronounced and reflected in consonantal variants and manifest instances of exegetical interpolation.

These readings were the subject of critical grammatical analysis and scrutiny by the earliest Arabic grammarians as they attempted to accommodate their grammatical features within the confines of a general theory of language. Naturally, the readings not only serve as important sources for the linguistic situation in early Islam, but they also provide insights into attitudes toward the language of scripture and developments in grammatical thinking during the early periods. Modern scholarship has often referred to readings under the rubric Quranic variants, although they are not deviations from the standard text but rather encapsulate intrinsic facets of its articulation.

The vast majority of readings reflected differences concerning vocalic values, consonantal variants, and the appendage of conjugational markers, the skeletal text accommodated these readings. A consensus of readings gradually developed, with different cities adopting readings identified with individual readers who sourced their readings to earlier authorities. Nevertheless, the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable readings remained somewhat blurred and different canonical readings where largely accepted - some limiting the readers to seven, then further systematized to teen and later fourteen readers. In some cases, quite a number of transmitters were mentioned and, in other cases, only one. Even some of these did not figure in all the systamized lists, although the format of dual transmission eventually became the fixed system.

When the first works on Quranic readings was composed, the collection of seven readings of the Quran, as associated with seven distinguished readers, was guided to a large extent by the preeminent status these readings had already acquired in their indigenous cities. Besides, earlier figures had already collated collections of readings which served as the principal sources for his work. Thus, by the 3rd/9th century the corpus of canonical readings had effectively been determined. Any reading meeting these conditions was to be considered Quranic readings in the strict sense of the word. Such readings could claim liturgical authority as representing the literal speech of God and were deemed to be valid for devotional acts of worship in which the recitation of scripture was obligatory.

The modern views towards the Readings of the Quran is that the variant readings are not of divine nature. On the contrary, their origins are attributed to the Quran readers and the transmitters themselves, that is, to their own selectivity and independent reasoning in reading and deciphering the consonantal outline (rasm).

Most readings appear to have been favored by the regions in which they originated. The great unifying change came in the tenth/sixteenth century, as the Ottoman empire adopted the Reading of ‘Āṣim in the recension of his student Ḥafṣ (Ḥafṣ ‘an ‘Āṣim). In the course of time this reading became and remained by far the most widespread. Only far away from the Ottoman empire, as in northwest Africa, did other readings remain in use. The printing of the Egyptian government edition of the Quran, which first appeared in 1342/1923, printing the reading by Ḥafṣ ‘an ‘Āṣim (although with a rasm with far fewer alifs), immensely advanced the spread of this reading, even beyond the later fall of the Ottoman empire.

In the full system of the fourteen readings, each reader is represented by two transmissions, and a reading is generally referred to by both the reader and one of the transmitters:

The Seven Readers

 
Reader Transmitter
Nāfi‘ Qālūn
Warsh
Ibn Kathīr al-Bazzī
Qunbul
Abū ‘Amr al-Dūrī
al-Sūsī
Ibn ‘Āmir Hishām
Ibn Dhakwān
‘Āṣim Shu‘ba
Ḥafṣ
Ḥamza Khalaf
Khallād
al-Kisā’ī al-Layth
al-Dūrī

The Ten Readers

 
Reader Transmitter
Khalaf Isḥāq
Idrīs
Ya‘qūb Ruways
Rawḥ
Yazīd ‘Isā
Ibn Jummāz

The Fourteen Readers

 
Reader Transmitter
Ibn Muḥayṣin al-Bazzī
Ibn Shannabūdh
al-Yazīdī Ibn Ayyūb
Ibn Jibrīl
al-Baṣrī Abū Nu‘aym
al-Dūrī
al-A‘mash al-Muṭawwi‘a
al-Shannabūdhī

(The Seven Readers)

Nāfi‘

Nāfi‘ b. ‘Abd. al-Raḥmān b. Abī Nu‘aym (70–169/689–785) the Medinese.

Qālūn → Nāfi‘

Qālūn, Abū Mūsā ‘Isā b. Mīnā al-Zarqī (120–220/737–835).

In Libya and in parts of Tunisia and Algeria the reading of Nāfi‘ in the recension of Qālūn (Qālūn ‘an Nāfi‘) has some following.

Warsh → Nāfi‘

Warsh, ‘Uthmān b. Sa‘īd b. ‘Abdallāh al-Quṭbī (110–197/728–812).

Nowadays, the most widespread reading in west and north Africa, except Egypt, is the reading of Nāfi‘ in the recension of Warsh (Warsh ‘an Nāfi‘).


Ibn Kathīr

‘Abdallāh b. Kathīr b. ‘Amr b. ‘Abdallāh al-Dārī (45–120/665–738) the Meccan.

Note that Qunbul (d. 291/904) and al-Bazzī (d. 250/864), the two canonical transmitters of the Meccan Reading, are not among the immediate transmitters of Ibn Kathīr. There are two generations of transmitters separating them from Ibn Kathīr.

al-Bazzī → Ibn Kathīr
al-Bazzī → Ibn Muḥayṣin

Abū al-Ḥasan Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Abī Bazza (d. 240/845 or 250/864), known as al-Bazzī, was the leading authority on the reading of the Quran in Mecca. He was of Persian origin, but his family was known as Meccans. For a period of forty years in the second half of his life, al-Bazzī had the responsibility of calling the Muslims to prayer as the mu’adhdhin in the Sacred Mosque (al-masjid al-ḥarām) in Mecca. Although al-Bazzī transmitted Ibn Kathīr’s reading through the intermediary of three of his teachers, he became known as the “master of Ibn Kathīr’s reading” (ṣaḥib qirā’at Ibn Kathīr) and the Meccan mode was attributed to him. After his death, his disciple overtook the role of mu’adhdhin for a period of forty-four years and continued to teach in the circle of his master for the whole of this period, which coincided with the time when Qunbul, the second important transmitter of Ibn Kathīr’s reading, presented his variant reading. Al-Bazzī died before Qunbul, but before his death, Qunbul had presented his reading to al-Bazzī for approval.

Al-Bazzī held an exceptional position among the readers of his times, a reputation that follows him to this day. On the basis of the recommendation made by al-Bazzī, reciters of the Quran used to make a takbīr (i.e. Allāh Akbar, “God is Great”) at the ending of every sūra after Sūrat al-Ḍuḥā before joining it to the Basmala of the following sūra.

Qunbul → Ibn Kathīr

Qunbul, Abū ‘Amr Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān (d. 280/893 or 291/904).

Abū ‘Amr

Abū ‘Amr b. al-‘Alā’, Zabbān b. al-‘Alā’ b. ‘Ammār b. ‘Uryān (68–154/687–770) the Basran, was one of the ‘seven readers’ (al-qurrā’ al-sab‘a), a man of letters and a chronicler, who came from Baṣra. His name is given in many versions due to discrepancies in the sources and to misspellings. He was descended from the tribe of Māzin. It is also said that of the ‘seven readers’, only Abū ‘Amr b. al-‘Alā’ and Ibn Mujāhid had Arab ancestry. Abū ‘Amr was born in Baṣra and began his education there, later leaving for Ḥijāz and had the opportunity to study in both Mecca and Medina. Abū ‘Amr also studied under different scholars in Baṣra, Kūfa, Meccan and Medina. According to some sources, Abū ‘Amr was a Sunni Muslim with leanings towards Murji’ī, doctrines.

In his reading of the Quran Abū ‘Amr followed the codex of Baṣra (muṣḥaf al-Baṣra), which was very close to the codex of Mecca (muṣḥaf Makka), but whenever there was any discrepancy between the two, he would incline towards that of Baṣra. The only reported variant between the codex of Baṣra and the reading transmitted by Abū ‘Amr is verse 26 of chapter Ghāfir (40) where he read wa an yuẓhira instead of aw an yuẓhira. Abū ‘Amr’s reading of the Quran was the main one used in Baṣra during his lifetime. Later on his reading was also known in Baghdad and other scholarly and cultural centers during. In Syria his reading became the prevalent one, overshadowing the one previously prevalent by Ibn ‘Āmir.

In his reading, Abū ‘Amr avoides takalluf (constraint) and tried wherever possible to ease and reduce difficulties in enunciation, being inclined to the principles of tashīl (making easy) and takhfīf (making light). For example, he preferred to lighten the pronunciation of the letter ḥamza (applying takhfīf), except in cases of grammatical and lexical necessity, or when it would be easier to pronounce it fully than with the takhfīf. Another characteristic of Abū ‘Amr’s recitation was his marked tendency to adopt idghām al-mutaqāribayn (assimilation of two proximate letters), such assimilating the letter dāl into the letter ṣād in the example maq‘ad ṣidq-in (thus maq‘aṣ ṣidq-in), and the letter kāf into the letter qāf as in rabbuk qadīrā (thus rabbu-q qadīrā). The preference of yā’ al-muḍāra‘a over is frequently seen in recensions of Abū ‘Amr’s reading.

Comparing Abū ‘Amr’s reading with those of the other ‘seven readers’, many similarities between him and Ibn Kathīr al-Makkī can be observed. Furthermore, in many instances Abū ‘Amr’s reading from Baṣra is consistent with the School of Kūfa, and though on a more narrow scale, it accords with Nāfi‘ and Ibn ‘Āmir. Where his reading differs from that of the others, it is for grammatical or lexical reasons (for example rushd-an instead of rashad-an).

The two principle narrators of Abū ‘Amr’s reading were Abū ‘Umar Abū Ḥafṣ b. ‘Umar al-Dūrī and Abū Shu‘ayb Ṣāliḥ b. Ziyād al-Sūsī. Abū ‘Amr also had the disciple al-Yazīdī, one of the ‘fourteen reciters’.

The two canonical transmitters of Abū ‘Amr b. al-‘Alā’, al-Dūrī (d. 246/860) and al-Sūsī (d. 261/874), are not among his immediate transmitters.

The reading of Abū ‘Amr is said to have been dominant in the Ḥijāz, Syria and the Yemen from the fifth/eleventh century, when it superseded Ibn ‘Āmir’s.

al-Dūrī → Abū ‘Amr
al-Dūrī → al-Kisā’ī
al-Dūrī → al-Baṣrī

al-Dūrī, Abū ‘Amr Ḥafṣ b. ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Baghdādī (d. 246/860).

The reading of Abū ‘Amr in the recension of al-Dūrī (al-Dūrī ‘an Abī ‘Amr) is still used in parts of west Africa, Sudan, Somalia and Ḥaḍramawt (region in South Arabia).

al-Sūsī → Abū ‘Amr

al-Sūsī, Abū Shu‘ayb Ṣāliḥ b. Ziyād b. ‘Abdallāh al-Riqqī (d. 261/874).

Ibn ‘Āmir

‘Abdallāh b. ‘Āmir, Abu ‘Imrān al-Yaḥṣabī (8–118/629–736) the Damascene. One should note that the most senior among the seven Readers was Ibn ‘Āmir, who died in 118/736, while the youngest was al-Kisā’ī, born in 119/737.

Obviously, Ibn ‘Amir’s two canonical transmitters, Hishām (d. 245/859) and Ibn Dhakwān (d. 242/856), are not among his immediate transmitters.

Hishām → Ibn ‘Āmir

Abū al-Walīd Hishām b. ‘Ammār b. Nuṣayr b. Maysara al-Sulamī (153–245/770–859).

Ibn Dhakwān → Ibn ‘Āmir

‘Abd Allāh b. Dhakwān, Abū ‘Amr ‘Abd Allāh b. Aḥmad b. Bashīr al-Dimashqī (173–242/789–856), was one of the two transmitters of the Quran reading of Ibn ‘Āmir, who was one of the ‘Seven Readers’ (al-qurrā’ al-sab‘a). He lived in Damascus and was for a while the imam of the congregational mosque there.

Of the two transmitters of Ibn ‘Āmir, Ibn Dhakwān’s was better known than Hishām. In contrast to Hishām, Ibn Dhakwān did not usually adhere to a systematic method such as would enable the establishment a distinct set of rules, for example as in the case of his somewhat varied views about idghām al-mutaqāribayn (assimilation of two proximate letters), and similarly with respect to the difference between the tashdīd (doubling) and takhfīf (lightning) of a letter.

He preferred a heavy (thaqīl) as opposed to a light (khafīf) mode of reading. His inclination towards the imāla (palatalisation) and ishmām (givigin the /u/ sound a slight /i/ sound) can be seen as characteristics of his approach as distinct from that of Hishām. His preference for taḥqīq (recitation in a slow manner) of the two hamzas (hamzatayn) can also be seen as a rule in Ibn Dhakwān’s narration of Ibn ‘Āmir’s reading.


‘Āṣim

Abū Bakr ‘Āṣim b. Bahdala Abī al-Najūd al-Asadī (d. 127/745) the Kufan.

Shu‘ba → ‘Āṣim

Abū Bakr Shu‘ba b. ‘Ayyāsh b. Sālim al-Ḥannāṭ (d. 95–193/713–809), was one of the two transmitters (rāwīs) of ‘Āṣim’s Kūfan reading (qirāʾa) of the Quran. His name has been cited in different forms, but he is most commonly known as Shu‘ba or Abū Bakr. He was born in Kūfa between the years 713 and 716 and began his studies at the age of sixteen with ‘Āṣim. As he himself said, it was because he found nobody as skilled as ‘Āṣim in this discipline that he became ‘Āṣim’s student for three years and learned his Quran reading from ‘Āṣim. During this period Shu‘ba was tested multiple times by ‘Āṣim.

As attested in the reports in the works on Quranic readings (qirā’a), many scholars received ‘Āṣim’s special style of reading certain letters (ḥurūf) through Shu‘ba’s transmission. When comparing ‘Āṣim’s reading as transmitted by Shu‘ba with what was transmitted by Ḥafṣ from ‘Āṣim, one may note that although Shu‘ba’s manner of transmission was more coherently organised, the transmission of Ḥafṣ was more widely prevalent in the following generation. This was mainly due to the fact that Shu‘ba rarely accepted students.

Shu‘ba’s version differs from Ḥafṣ’s version in many respects, so much so that these two versions which derive from ‘Āṣim would appear to be two separate readings (qirā’as).

Shu‘ba is described as pious and devout, being constantly occupied with prayer, fasting and reading the Quran. He was on friendly terms with the Abbasid caliph al-Hārūn. His is occasionally described as a Shi’a Muslim, and mentioned as one of the companions of Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq and been devoted to Imam ‘Ali b. ‘Abī Ṭālib, this to the extend, that he acknowledge Ali’s superiority over the “two Sheikhs” (shaykhān), that is, Abū Bakr and ‘Umar (as well asserting his superiority over ‘Uthmān). There are reports that indicate his familiarity with the jurisprudence associated with the Prophet’s family (fiqh ahl al-bayt). However, he also narrated reports that mention Abū Bakr’s superiority above Imam ‘Ali and thereby justifying Abū Bakr’s caliphate.

He is quoted as having affirmed that those who believed that the Quran was created (makhlūq) were to be considered kāfir (disbeliever).

Ḥafṣ → ‘Āṣim

Abū ‘Amr Ḥafṣ b. Sulaymān b. al-Mughīra (90–180/708–796).

Ḥamza

Ḥamza b. Ḥabīb b. ‘Ammāra b. Ismā‘īl al-Zayyāt al-Tamīmī (80–156/699–773) the Kufan.

Like Ibn Kathīr, the two canonical transmitters of Ḥamza, Khalaf (d. 229/844) and Khallād (d. 220/835) are not immediate transmitters.

In the Maghrib, Ḥamza’s reading was supplanted by Nāfi‘’s, which also became the favored reading in al-Andalus.

Khalaf → Ḥamza
Khalaf ← Isḥāq
Khalaf ← Idrīs

Khalaf Abū Muḥammad b. Hishām b. Tha‘lab al-Bazzār al-Baghdādī (150–229/767–844).

Khallād → Ḥamza

Khallād Abū ‘Isā b. Khālid al-Baghdādī (d. 220/835).

al-Kisā’ī

‘Alī b. Ḥamza b. ‘Abdallāh al-Kisā’ī (119–189/737–805) the Kufan.

al-Layth → al-Kisā’ī

Abū al-Ḥārith, al-Layth b. Khālid al-Baghdādī (d. 240/854), was one of the two transmitters of the Quranic reading (qirā’a) of al-Kisā’ī. Few detailed information is available on his life; the date of his death is only known from later sources. Some have even confused him with a contemporaneous traditionist, Abū Bakr al-Layth b. Khālid al-Marwazī.

Al-Layth’s most important teacher was al-Kisā’ī, who heath him recite the Quran in its entirety in order to ascertain the accuracy of al-Layth’s transmission of the reading. However he also studied with other masters, among others Abū Muḥammad Yaḥyā b. al-Mubārak al-Yazīdī who was one of the ‘Fourteen Reciters’ (aṣḥāb al-qirā’āt al-arba‘ ‘ashara ).

Al-Layth’s recitation surpassed in popularity that of his contemporary al-Dūrī, and also the style of those of the other companions of al-Kisā’ī, properly because al-Layth did not promote his own opinions or contradict al-Kisā’ī.

The particular characteristic, apparently common to both al-Layth and al-Dūrī, meant that their differences of opinion over what they transmitted from al-Kisā’ī were confined to a handful of instances. The only significant differences related in the main to matters of Quran recitation (tajwīd), where in a few cases where al-Layth preferred not to use imāla (palatalisation), giving to the fatḥa a sound tending towards that of a kasra. Al-Layth’s only concession to idghām (assimilation of two proximate letters), was in an instance in which such assimilation was deemed permissible on account of the apocopated verb (jazm): the lām of yaf‘al with the following dhāl of dhālika in Quran 2:231, “man yaf‘al dhālika”. In the matter of “deviant” or non-canonical variant readings, there is an instance in which al-Layth (unlike al-Dūrī) preferred to employ imāla (palatalisation). However, even in the few differences of opinion relating to matters other than tajwīd - such as the disagreement over whether the diacritic over the letter mīm in the Quranic word yaṭmithhunna is a ḍamma or a kasra, in two verses of the Quran 55:56 and 55:74 - such cases was considered optional by al-Kisā’ī and should not be taken as a strict difference.

al-Dūrī → al-Kisā’ī

As for al-Dūrī, his record is provided above, with Abū ‘Amr.
(The Ten Readers)

Khalaf

Khalaf, the same as Ḥamza’s first transmitter.

Isḥāq → Khalaf

Abū Ya‘qūb Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm al-Warrāq al-Marwazī al-Baghdādī (d. 286/899).

Idrīs → Khalaf

Abū al-Ḥasan Idrīs ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Ḥaddad al-Baghdādī (d. 295/908).

Ya‘qūb

Abū Muḥammad Ya‘qūb b. Isḥāq al-Ḥaḍramī (d. 205/821).

Ruways → Ya‘qūb

Ruways Abū ‘Abdallāh Muḥammad b. al-Mutawakkil al-Baṣrī (d. 238/852).

Rawḥ → Ya‘qūb

Abū al-Ḥasan Rawḥ b. ‘Abd al-Mu’min al-Baṣrī (d. 234/848).

Yazīd

Abū Ja‘far Yazīd b. al-Qa‘qā‘ (d. 130/747).

‘Isā → Yazīd

Abū al-Ḥārith ‘Isā b. Wirdān al-Madanī (d. ca. 160/777).

Ibn Jummāz → Yazīd

Abū al-Rabī‘ Sulaymān b. Muslim b. Jummāz al-Madanī (d. 170/786).
(The Fourteen Readers)

Ibn Muḥayṣin

Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Muḥayṣin (d. 123/740).

al-Bazzī → Ibn Muḥayṣin

al-Bazzī, the same as Ibn Kathīr’s first transmitter.

Ibn Shannabūdh → Ibn Muḥayṣin

Abū al-Ḥasan Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Ayyūb b. Shannabūdh (d. 328/939).

al-Yazīdī

al-Yazīdī, Abū Muḥammad Yaḥyā b. al-Mubārak b. al-Mughīra al-Baṣrī (d. 202/817).

Ibn Ayyūb → al-Yazīdī

Abū Ayyūb Sulaymān b. Ayyūb b. al-Ḥakam al-Baghdādī (d. 235/849).

Ibn Jibrīl → al-Yazīdī

Abū Ja‘far Aḥmad b. Faraḥ b. Jibrīl al-Baghdādī (d. 303/915).

al-Baṣrī

al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728).

Abū Nu‘aym → al-Baṣrī

Abū Nu‘aym Shujā‘b b. Abī Naṣr al-Balkhī al-Baghdādī (d. 190/806).

al-Dūrī → al-Baṣrī

al-Dūrī, the same as Abū Amr’s first transmitter.

al-A‘mash

Abū Muḥammad Sulaymān b. Mahrān al-A‘mash al-Kufī (d. 148/765).

al-Muṭawwi‘a → al-A‘mash

Abū al-‘Abbās al-Ḥasan b. Sa‘īd b. Ja‘far al-Muṭawwi‘a al-Baṣrī (d. 371/981).

al-Shannabūdhī → al-A‘mash

Abū al-Faraj Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Ibrāhīm al-Shannabūdhī al-Baghdādī (d. 388/998).

Variant Type

  1. Derivatives, anomalous variants that exhibit different morphological patterns yet still share common root letters.
  2. Addition or omission, that is addition or omission of a particle, consonant, vowel, etc.
  3. Case endings (i‘rāb), discrepancies in the case endings of the variants.
  4. Short vowels, discrepancies in the internal vowels of the variants.
  5. Long Vowels, loss or gain or exchange between the long vowels ā, ī and ū.
  6. Forms, interchanges between the active and the passive forms of the verbs and the participles
  7. Verb Form, changes in the verb forms of the variants.
  8. Gemination, existence or absence of a shaddah in the variants.
  9. Tanwīn, existence or absence of tanwīn in the variants
  10. Hamzah, variation related to the hamzah such as its lenition, articulation, omission, etc.
  11. Imperfect Prefix conjugation, discrepancies in the prefixes of the imperfect verb forms (often among yā’, tā’, and nūn).
  12. Perfect suffix conjugation, discrepancies in the suffixes of the perfect verb forms often among tu, ta, ti and at endings.
  13. Alternation (ibdāl), a consonantal interchange between two root letters resulting in two variants.
  14. Vowel omission and Consonant loss (taskīn), omission of vowels and loss of consonants due to phonetic phenomena.
  15. Pronoun Discrepancy, discrepancies in the subject, object, and possessive pronouns.
  16. Particles (ḥarf), usage of different particles preceding nouns and verbs.
  17. tā’ al-ta’nīth and al-tā al-marbūṭah, different aspects related to al-tā al-marbūṭah such as its omission, transformation into a hā’, and untying it to become a regular tā’.
  18. The Definite Article, the existence or absence of the definite article (al) before nouns.
  19. Transposition and Meta-Thesis, when two words exchange places in a sentence. Meta-thesis is when two letters or sounds exchange places within one word.
  20. Common root letter, existence of one common root letter among the variants.
  21. Assimilation, two consonants or a vowel and a consonant assimilate forming a geminated consonant.
  22. Amalgamation, two different words in one variant are read as one single word in another.
  23. Tense alternation, discrepancy between the variants including the perfect, imperfect and future tenses.
  24. Pattern (wazn), two variants exhibit the same pattern in the word (wazn) yet they share no common root letters.