Review Ma'ariful Qur'an - 2

The Seven Readings of the Holy Qur'an

In order that the noble Qur'an becomes easily recitable, Allah Almighty has blessed the Muslim community with special convenience by allowing it to read the words of the Qur'an in more than one way. If there are situations when a person is unable to pronounce some words in one manner, he could recite it in another. It appears in a hadith of Sahih Muslim that the Holy Prophet was once sitting by the pond of Banu Ghifar while Angel Jibra'il (Alayhis-Salam) came and said: 'Allah Almighty has commanded you to ask your community to recite the Qur'an following one method of reading.' He said: 'I seek from Allah His pardon and forgiveness. My people do not have the ability to do so.' Then, Angel Jibra'il (Alayhis-Salam) returned to him and said: 'Allah Almighty has commanded you to let your people recite the Qur'an following two readings.' He said: 'I seek pardon and forgiveness from Allah Almighty. My people do not have the ability to do even that.' Then, Jibra'il (Alayhis-Salam) came the third time and said: 'Allah Almighty has commanded you to let your people recite the Qur'an following three readings.' Again he said: 'I seek pardon and forgiveness from Allah Almighty. My people do not have the ability to do even that.' Then he came the fourth time and said: 'Allah Almighty has commanded you to let your people recite the Qur'an following seven readings. So, whichever of these they follow to read the Qur'an, their recitation will be correct.'(Manahil al-'Irfan, v. 1, p. 33)

Accordingly, there is yet another hadith where the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) has said:
This Qur'an has been revealed covering seven versions. So from out of these, recite in a way that is easy on you.

What is meant by 'Seven Versions' in this saying of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam)  There are several scholarly positions in this connection but according to scholars who have conducted painstaking and exhaustive research on the subject, the weightier meaning of this expression is that the variations found in different readings of the Holy Qur'an are of seven types. These are as follows:
1. The difference in nouns: This includes the difference concerning singular, dual, plural, as well as, masculine and feminine.

2. The difference in verbs: That there be past in one reading, the present in another and the imperative in yet another. 
3. The difference in the placement of diacritical marks: That which shows variance in I'rab, which reflects variance in grammatical mode of a word and is demonstrated through desinential inflections, such as kasrah, fathah, dammah.
4. The difference caused by addition and deletion of words: That there be some word missing in one reading while it has been added on in another; for instance, the words (arbic text)  appear in one reading while the words (arbic text) appear in another.

5. The difference of precedence and succession: That there is a word which precedes in one reading, while it succeeds in the other.
6. The difference caused by transposition: This happens when a word found in one reading is replaced by another word in another reading.

7. The difference caused by manners of reading: It includes variations in tafkhim (velarization, making sound heavy), tarqiq (making a letter sound soft), imalah (inclination, bending the sound of a short vowel), madd (prolongation), qasr (to shorten), hamz: hamzatation (providing a letter with hamzah), izhar (clear pronunciation) and idgham (assimilation). It means that, by doing these, the actual word does not change but the mode of its pronunciation does change.

Anyhow, many readings were revealed incorporating these seven types of different renderings. This difference between them really made no difference in meaning. The latitude so given was aimed at making recitation easy.

In the beginning, people were not totally used to the style of the Qur'an, therefore, many readings were permitted within the radius of these seven types. But, it was the blessed practice of the Holy Prophet (sallallaho alehey wasalam) that he would go through the entire revealed Qur'an with Jibra'il during the month of Ramadan every year. The year he left this mortal world, that was the year he did so twice. This 'daur' or meticulous re-reading of the Qur'an is called (Arabic text) (last review). On this occasion, many readings were abrogated. Only readings retained were the ones which continue to stay preserved to this day with uninterrupted succession.

Sayyidna 'Uthman (radhiAllaho anhu), during the period of his khilafah,arranged to have seven copies of the noble Qur'an prepared in order to remove misgivings regarding the recitation of Qur'an. He incorporated all readings in these seven copies by leaving the calligraphed verses of the noble Qur'an without dots and desinences (the vowel-points) so that the text could be read in accordance with whichever reading one wished to follow from among the very readings cited. Thus most of the readings merged into this script, and the readings that could not merge into the script were saved by him when he elected to have one copy written according to one reading, and another, in accordance with another reading. The community demonstrated such care and diligence in having the fondly-remembered readings collected in these copies that Qira'ah developed into a branch of knowledge in its own right, and there rose hundreds of scholars, reciters and memorizers of the Holy Qur'an who spent their entire spans of life to keep it preserved and protected.

What actually happened was that when Sayyidna 'Uthman (radhiAllaho anhu) sent the seven copies of the noble Qur'an to various areas, he had also sent particular reciters who could teach how to recite them. So, when these revered reciters reached their designated areas, they taught people to read the Qur'an in accordance with their respective readings. These different readings spread out among people. At this stage, some people bequeathed their lives to memorize different readings, and in training others to continue the discipline. This is how the foundation of the 'science of readings' was laid and people from different parts of the Islamic world started turning to the masters of the discipline to achieve the highest of excellence in it. Some memorized only one reading, others did two or three or seven, or even more than that. In this connection, a standard rule was accepted as norm throughout the ummah and it was invariably followed everywhere. It stipulated that only such reading (qira'ah) will be accepted as being the Qur'an which fulfils three conditions:

1. There is room for it in the script of 'Uthmani' copies of the Qur'an.

2. It conforms to the grammar of the Arabic language.

3. It should have, provenly -- with sound authority, originated from the Holy Prophet (sallallaho alehey wasalam), and be well-known among the masters of readings, that is, the Imams of Qira'ah.

A reading which lacks even one of these three requirements cannot be considered as part of the Qur'an. Thus a large number of readings continued to be reported in uninterrupted succession. Then, as a matter of convenience, it so happened that an Imam started giving instructions in one, or some selected readings, and that particular reading became identified with his name. Then, scholars started writing books to collect these readings. So, Imam Abu 'Ubayd Qasim ibn Sallam, Imam Ab'u Hatim Sijistani, Qadi Isma'il and Imam Ab'u Ja'far al-Tabari were the first among those who compiled books in this field which included more than twenty readings. Then came the great scholar, Abu Bakr ibn Mujahid (died 324 Hijrah) who wrote a book in which he had included readings from seven qaris (reciters) only. This book of his became so popular that these readings from the seven qaris became much more famous as compared with those of other qaris

In fact, some people got used to thinking that these are the only sound readings coming in uninterrupted succession. Although, the truth of the matter is that 'Allamah ibn Mujahid has collected these seven readings in one place just by chance. He never meant that readings other than these were wrong or unacceptable. This act of 'Allamah ibn Mujahid created yet another misunderstanding when some people began to think that (seven versions) means just these seven readings which have been collected by ibn Mujahid. Although, it has been explained earlier that these seven readings are simply a part of sound readings, otherwise every reading that fulfils the above-mentioned three conditions perfectly is sound, acceptable and included within the seven versions (Huraf) in which the noble Qur'an was revealed.

The Seven Qaris
Anyhow, the seven qaris who became most famous as a result of this act of 'Allamah ibn Mujahid are:

1. 'Abdullah ibn Kathir al-Dari (died 120 Hijrah). He was fortunate enough to have seen Sayyidna Anas ibn Malik, 'Abdullah ibn Zubayr and Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (radhiAllaho anhu) from among the Companions. His reading became more famous in Makkah al-Mukarramah. Well-known among those who transmitted his rendition are Bazzi and Qambal, may Allah have mercy on them all.

2. Nafi' ibn 'Abd Al-Rahman ibn Abi al-Nu'aym (died 169 Hijrah). He had the benefit of learning from seventy successors to the Companions who were direct disciples of Sayyidna 'Ubayy ibn Ka'b, 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas and Abu Hurayrah (radhiAllaho anhu). His reading became more famous in Madinah and among those who transmitted his rendition, Ab-u Musa Qalun (died 220 Hijrah) and Abu Sa'id Warsh (died 197 Hijrah) are better known.

3. 'Abdullah al-Hisbi, better known as Ibn 'Amir (died 118 Hijrah). He was fortunate to have seen Sayyidna Nu'man ibn Bashir and Wathilah ibn Asq-a' (radhiAllaho anhu) from among the Companions. He had learnt the art of Qur'anic reading from Mughirah ibn Shihab al-Makhzumi who was a disciple of Sayyidna 'Uthman (radhiAllaho anhu). His reading gained currency mostly in Syria, and more famous among those who transmitted his rendition are Hisham and Dhakwan.

4. Abu 'Amr Zabban ibn al-'Ala (died 154 Hijrah). He has reported his rendition from Sayyidna Ibn 'Abbas and 'Ubayy ibn Ka'b (radhiAllaho anhu), through Mujahid and Sa'id ibn Jubayr. His reading became fairly well-known in Basrah. Abu 'Umar al-Dawri (died 246 Hijrah) and Abu Shu'ayb al-Susi (died 261 Hijrah) are among the more famous transmitters of his rendition.

5. Hamzah ibn Habib al-Zayyat, ex-slave of 'Ikramah ibn Rabi' al-Taymi (died 188 Hijrah). He is a disciple of Sulayman al-A'mash, who was a disciple of Yahya ibn Waththab, who was a disciple of Zirr ibn Hubaysh, and he had the benefit of learning from Sayyidna 'Uthman, 'Ali and 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud (radhiAllaho anhu). Among his transmitters, Khalf ibn Hisham (died 188 Hijrah) and Khallad ibn Khalid (died 220 Hijrah) are more famous.

6. 'Asim ibn Abi al-Najud al-Asadiyy (died 127 Hijrah). Through Zirr ibn Hubaysh, he is a disciple of 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud (radhiAllaho anhu) and through Abu 'Abd al-Rahman Sulami and al-Asadiyy, he is a disciple of Sayyidna 'Ali (radhiAllaho anhu). More famous among the transmitters of his rendition are Shu'bah ibn 'Ayyash (died 193 Hijrah) and Hafs ibn Sulayman (died 180 Hijrah). Generally, the recitation of the Holy Qur'an these days is made following the rendition of this very Hafs ibn Sulayman.

7. Abu al-Hasan 'Ali ibn Hamzah al-Kisa'i (died 189 Hijrah). Among his transmitters, Abu al-Harith Marwazi (died 240 Hijrah) and Abu 'Umar al-Dawri (who is also a transmitter of Abu 'Amr) are better known. The readings of the later three became more common in Kufah.

As it has been submitted earlier that several other readings, other than these seven, are sound and have been reported in uninterrupted succession. However, when the misunderstanding that sound readings are limited to these seven started gaining currency, several scholars (for example, 'Allamah Shadha'i and Abu Bakr ibn Mihran) collected, instead of seven, ten readings in one book. Thereupon, the term, "Al-qira'at al-'ashrah" or "Ten Readings" became famous. In these ten readings, the readings by the following three were also included in addition to those of the seven mentioned above:

1. Ya'qub ibn Ishaq al-Hadrami (died 205 Hijrah). His rendition was famous mostly in Basrah.

2. Khalf ibn Hisham (died 205 Hijrah) who is also a transmitter of the rendition of Hamzah. His rendition was common mostly in Kufah.

3. Abu Ja'far Yazid ibn al-Qa'qa' (died 130 Hijrah). His rendition found wider currency in Madinah al-Tayyibah.

4. Abu al-Faraj Shambudhi (died 388 Hijrah) who was a resident of Baghdad.

Some scholars have counted Sulayman al-A'mash among the fourteen qaris in place of Shambudhi. Out of these, the first ten readings are credited with uninterrupted succession as vouched by sound authority.

Other than these are Shadhdh or rare (Manahil al'Irfan with reference to Munjid al-Muqri'in by ibn al-Jazri).

- Extract from Ma'ariful Qur'an, commentroy of the Holy Quran by Mufti Muhammad Shafi, (in 8 volumns) revised by Justice Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, english translation by Prof. Muhammad Hasan Askari and Prof. Muhammad Shamim.

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