The Preservation of Al-Quran (Hafs vs Warsh/other recitations)

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

This post is about the preservation of the message of Allah to mankind. We will review few frequently asked question such as; how and where, is the message of Allah preserved? In which form is this message sent to mankind? Can there be different versions of this message?

A popular notion is that the message of Allah is in ‘book’ form and the book is preserved by Allah, letter by letter and dot by dot in all versions of this book existing in the world. Another prevalent concept is that Al-Quran was revealed in seven different ‘ahruf’ and 10 different recitations. The 2nd statement is based on a hadith with not much details about what ‘ahruf’ means and not all scholars agreeing on the extent of differences in ‘ahruf’ and recitations.

Before we delve deeper into this topic, please understand that the word ‘Al-Quran’ means ‘The Reading’. When the message of Allah is read, it is ‘Al-Quran’. When it is written, it is ‘Al-Kitab’. Generally a copy of Quran in paper form is called a ‘Mus-haf’ while Al-Quran does not use the word ‘Mushaf’ itself. General public sometimes use the word ‘Quran’ interchangeably for the written book form, which is technically not correct. Another attribute in Arabic of Al-Quran is ‘Az-Zikr’ which means ‘The Remembrance’ or ‘The Admonition’. (List of attributes of the message of Allah is given in previous post of Al-Kitab on this site : https://topicsfromquran.com/2017/03/26/who-are-ahlal-kitab/)

15:9 إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

Indeed, We have sent down the Remembrance; and indeed we are the guardians for it.

Al-Quran confirms that ‘Az-Zikr’ (The remembrance/admonition) is revealed by Allah and He is the one who protects it. This means that the message of Allah which He has sent to mankind is preserved by divine means. Therefore for those who seek this message, it will be accessible to them. This statement in Quran lead some people to believe that the Quran in written form whether in book form or digital format, cannot have any dissimilarity with other written copies. However, Allah has clarified in Quran that the paper form is made by people not by Him. So, Allah will preserve the remembrance/admonition, that He has revealed, and not the paper forms which people have copied. In fact the written individual copies of Al-Quran, or individual recitations, may contain dissimilarities with other copies.

Hafs, Warsh and other versions:

We find that there are different recitations of Al-Quran in exitance today, although the differences in them are minor in nature. The two most popularly known versions are called ‘Hafs’ and ‘Warsh’. They have minor differences with each other which varies from changes in words, harakas and numbering of ayahs, although no difference in the spirt of the message conveyed. ‘Hafs’ recitation is the most widely adopted recitation in the Muslim world with about 95% of Muslims adhering to it. The Warsh recitation is adopted by 3% of the Muslim world (mostly in North Africa) and then remaining 2% subscribing to lesser known recitations.

However only one reading/recitation of Al-Quran is the intended one by God which is persevered in the world for those who seek it. In order to know which one is it, we need guidance from Al-Quran. We know from Al-Quran, that Allah has placed His signs’ at Masid Ul Haram and ordered believers to align themselves towards of Masjid ul Haram (2:150). The place of ‘Ibrahim’ is fixed at Masjid ul Haram (22:26). The believers are ordered to take their ‘Mussala’ from the place of Ibrahim in Masjid Ul Haram (2:125). In this Mosque, the system of salat is preserved. In salat, the recitation from Al-Quran is made and then believers bow and prostate to what they have recited. Allah declared that His house is guidance for all words (3:96). So believers who seek guidance, if they are in doubt about which recitation is the true recitation of Al-Quran, they should seek the recitation which is preserved at Masjid ul Haram and recited in the system of salat established there. The reading of Al-Quran at Masjid ul Haram at the place of Ibrahim (a.s) is the preserved one for guidance of man kind, and is what is popularly known as the ‘Hafz’ version.

3:96 إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِّلْعَالَمِينَ

The first House appointed for mankind is that at Bakka( Makkah): Full of blessings and of guidance for all worlds.

6:91 وَمَا قَدَرُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ قَدْرِهِ إِذْ قَالُوا مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ بَشَرٍ مِّن شَيْءٍ ۗ قُلْ مَنْ أَنزَلَ الْكِتَابَ الَّذِي جَاءَ بِهِ مُوسَىٰ نُورًا وَهُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ ۖ تَجْعَلُونَهُ قَرَاطِيسَ تُبْدُونَهَا وَتُخْفُونَ كَثِيرًا ۖ وَعُلِّمْتُم مَّا لَمْ تَعْلَمُوا أَنتُمْ وَلَا آبَاؤُكُمْ ۖ قُلِ اللَّهُ ۖ ثُمَّ ذَرْهُمْ فِي خَوْضِهِمْ يَلْعَبُونَ

They did not value Allah as He should be valued, when they said, “Allah did not reveal from anything to a bashar/human.” Say, “Who then sent down the Book which Moosa brought, with light and guidance for the people?” You made it to pieces of paper, you show something while concealing a lot of it. You were taught what you never knew- you nor your fore-fathers. Say, “Allah (revealed it),” then leave them in their heedlessness, playing.

Allah did not reveal the Book in paper form. It is people who transferred ‘the Book’ on papers. There exists no master copy of Quran in printed form against which a new printed copy can be compared. However still the revelation is preserved for those seeking it. Az-Zikr/the remembrance of the message of Allah is preserved by collective remembrance of protectors/huffaz.

6:7 وَلَوْ نَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ كِتَابًا فِي قِرْطَاسٍ فَلَمَسُوهُ بِأَيْدِيهِمْ لَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِنْ هَٰذَا إِلَّا سِحْرٌ مُّبِينٌ

Had we sent to you a book in papers, even so that they could touch it with their hands, the unbelievers would have been sure to say. “This is nothing but obvious magic!”

The responsibility of collection of Al-Quran and its recitations is on Allah.

75:17 إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ

It is for Us (Allah) for its (Al-Quran’s) collection and recitation.

Notes:

  1. The changes in different recitations in existence today, are not in accent only, they have difference in some words too. However, even with the difference in words, the spirit of the message conveyed is the same. For example in Hafs version, last word of ayat 2:85 is تَعْمَلُونَ meaning ‘you (people) do’. While in Warsh version this word is يَعْمَلُونَ meaning ‘they do’. Although both words are different, the spirit of the message does not change i.e Allah is aware of what people do. (details of the differences are available on internet (one such site is http://muslimprophets.com/article.php?aid=64)
  2. Easy to distinguish sign in recitation comes early in Al-Quran, i.e in ayat 4 of Sura Fatiha, where Hafs version is ‘مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ’ (Owner of the day of judgment) and Warsh version is مَلِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ (King of the day of Judgement).
  3. Why early Islamic scholars allowed different readings of Al-Quran. The below article by Mr. Javed Ghamidi (translated by Dr. Shehzad Saleem) sheds some light:http://www.shehzadsaleem.com/variant-readings-of-quran/. Copy of an excerpt from this article is given below:

“The answer to this question is that long before all these scholars, the earliest Muslim authorities had formed the opinion that though it is not essential for the common man to acquire knowledge through the akhbar-i ahad, it is essential for the scholars and the select to accept them and after being satisfied about their isnad, there is no difference in acquiring and adducing the knowledge gained through them and the knowledge that pervades among the common Muslims and which is being transferred from their generations to generations. Imam Shafi’i writes in his celebrated treatise Al-Risalah:

وعلم الخاصة سنة من خبر الخاصة يعرفها العلماء ولم يكلفها غيرهم وهي موجودة فيهم أو في بعضهم بصدق الخاص المخبر عن رَسُوْلَ اللّٰہِ بها وهذا اللازم لأهل العلم أن يصيروا إليه

And the knowledge of the select is the sunnah which is acquired through their reports, which the scholars know and which is not essential for the common man to know. This sunnah is present with all the scholars or with some of them from God’s Messenger (sws) through the information provided by a reliable informant and this is the knowledge which scholars must necessarily turn to.[2]

Thus after the demise of the Prophet (sws), when trustworthy narrators started to state, for example, that while a companion had read the word مَالِك (owner) as مَلِك (king) in verse 2 of Surah Fatihah, and يَكْذِبُوْن in its intensive form as يُكَذِّبُوْن in verse 10 of Surah Baqarah and يُوْصي in its passive form in verse 12 of Surah Nisa’, then this was accepted in scholarly circles in the same way that the reports of his other sayings and deeds were being accepted. The reason for this was evident: if they did not accept these reports regarding the Qur’an, they would also not have any basis to accept reports which depicted the Prophet’s deductions, verdicts, explanations and exemplary character except if they were deemed to be against a Qur’anic verse. The proliferation of variant readings took place because of this opinion of the tabi’un (followers of the companions).” 

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