Lecture 12 in the Ramadaan series:
EXPLORING THE SHIA APPROACH TO THE QURAN
Monday 28 May 2018 (12 Ramadaan 1439)
at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider.
We concluded our previous discussion by saying that ibn Mujahid took a very courageous and decisive action that the style of Qira’ah shall be limited to 7 modes of the 7 foremost Qaris. This was at the end of the third century or beginning of the fourth century after Hijra.
Important to note that these 7 Qaris were from the first or second century at the most, whereas ibn Mujahid made this declaration at end of third century. So, he used the 7 Qaris recitation style as the criteria. In other words, he confined Qira’ah to the 7 modes even though they were not around in his era.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT THE 7 OFFICIAL QURRAH WHO WERE ENDORSED
Before we move further, let us get to know these 7 Qaris better, because they are indeed important personalities in the sense of Qira’ah of Quran today, since the whole world reads the Quran based upon their 7 styles.
We mentioned in the previous lecture that the 7 of the best Qaris from different cities that ibn Mujahid endorsed as the official 7 modes of Qira’ah were:
• Mecca – Abdullah ibn Kathir (Iranian)
• Medinah – Naf’e ibn Abdurahman (Iranian)
• Basrah – Abu Amr ibn Ala’a
• Syria – Abdullah ibn Amir
• Kufa – Hamza az-Zaiyyat, Asim ibn Abi Najud, Ali ibn Hamza Kasai
We do not find the style of Abdullah ibn Kathir practiced much today. An interesting fact about the style of Qira’ah of Naf’e ibn Abdurahman is that you will still find it practiced today in Libya, Tunisia, and parts of Al-Andalus and Qatar. You will also find his style practiced in Algeria, Morocco, West Africa and Sudan.
Abu Amr ibn Ala’a was Shia and his style of recitation is common in parts of Sudan and West Africa.
Abdullah ibn Amir was from Syria and he is from the very early days of Islam. He was born in the year 8AH. You will find his style of recitation common in parts of Yemen.
Asim ibn Abi Najud is the most important as his style of Qira’ah is most commonly practiced in the world, which is basically the standard recitation at the moment. Interesting to note is that he was also Shia. His teacher was Abu Abdurehman Sullami who directly recited with Imam Ali (a.s).
The recitation of Hamza az-Zaiyyat and Ali ibn Hamza Kasai is very rarely heard these days. The most common of course is Asim ibn Abi Najud. Truly ironic it is that Shia are accused of not believing in this Quran, but the whole world follows the recitation style of a Shia by the name of Asim ibn Abi Najud!
SUNNI VERSUS SHIA UNDERSTANDING OF THE 7 QIRA’AH
The next very, very important discussion is about Sunni versus Shia understanding of the 7 Qira’ah. At the end of the third century, ibn Mujahid, who was the leading authority on the science of Qira’ah with major influence in this field, announced the 7 Qaris whose Qira’ah style is acceptable.
He faced fierce opposition from many people who questioned what right he has to place a moratorium on all the other styles of recitation. Furthermore, he was also challenged on his selection of the 7 Qurrah, with people thinking that there are better Qurrah than his chosen 7.
Despite this opposition, he (ibn Mujahid) succeeded in his endeavor through the support of the Islamic state and through his significant influence on the subject of Qira’ah.
Gradually, somehow, ibn Mujahid’s declaration became quite sacred as it eventually took the complexion of being somewhat divinely ordained! Therefore, this matter warrants a dedicated discussion.
The common belief of the Muslim Ummah is that the Quran has been revealed with 7 Qira’ah, and we can read the Quran with 7 styles. Is this statement factually correct? The end of today’s lecture will have the answer!
DIFFERENCES IN QIRA’AH VERSUS TAHRIF (DISTORTION) OF THE QURAN
This discussion is also very much connected to Tahrif (distortion) of the Holy Quran. This is such a crucial discussion which we need to cover in this series of lectures, as we Shia are innocently and falsely accused of not believing the Quran we have today is the complete, authentic Quran.
Today’s discussion on Qira’ah is also connected to the discussion on Tahrif.
The Holy Quran is itself considered authentic, since all its verses are considered Mutawatir. Why is the Holy Quran 100% authentic? Why can nobody place any finger on any letter and question its authenticity? The reason is because it is Mutawatir, which means that a matter has been narrated, recorded, reported and transmitted on a successive basis, without any break, by a big number of narrators, such that the possibility of errors in their transmission is nearly zero (not completely zero). This is called Mutawatir.
We believe that the Hadith of Thaqalain is Mutawatir, where Rasulullah (SAWA) said:
“I leave behind 2 precious things, the Quran and my family. Hold onto them and you will never go astray”
We refer to this Hadith as being Mutawatir because it has been overwhelmingly recorded, reported, transmitted and narrated, such that the probability of it being fabricated or a lie is most remote. You know, a handful of people can lie or make a mistake, but clearly, the possibility of mistake or dishonesty is extremely remote the greater the population of those who have reported the Hadith with consistent wording.
The Hadith of Ghadir is another example, as it was narrated by more than 110 Sahaba with consistency, which makes it Mutawatir. There is a successive, massive transmission without break. It then reaches a point where the possibility of fabrication is almost nil.
ARE THE 7 MODES OF QIRA’AH MUTAWATIR?
Quranic verses are indeed Mutawatir. The whole Ummah has consensus that this verse belongs to the Quran, etc. Therefore, the authenticity of the Quran is based upon Mutawatur ie. overwhelmingly transmitted and recorded fact, where the possibility of fabrication or error is not possible. That is why we believe that the Quran is 100% authentic.
The question is, what about Qira’ah? These styles of reading and especially the 7 modes we are confining our discussion to, are they also Mutawatir? Were these 7 styles of reading also transmitted, recorded, reported and narrated by an overwhelming number of people so that we should believe that the style of recitation is similar to how the verse was revealed? Our answer to this question is an EMPHATIC NO!
We have understood from the last few lectures the various influences over time which impacted on the development of differences in Qira’ah. This resulted in mass confusion with the one feeling that the other recitation is incorrect and back and forth.
Let us look at a few examples again. Verse 6 of Surah Hujraat (chapter 49 of the Holy Quran) refers:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنْ جَاءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَإٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا
“O you who believe! If an evil-doer comes to you with a report, look carefully into it”
Now, there were some Qurrah who said “fatuthabbitu” instead of “fatabayyanu”. This was all due to playing around with the dots, like we discussed in the prior lectures.
Another example is the word “nunshizuha” which was read by others as “nunshiruha”. Just imagine! This list can go on and on.
Now, with these examples, there is clearly no Mutawatur as there are so many differences and the one would declare the other to be wrong, because the meaning changes drastically.
So, we want to say that the Quran in Mutawatir. Its authenticity is beyond question because it is from Almighty Allah (SWT). Qira’ah is not from Allah (SWT). Qira’ah is from the Qari. So, 7 different Qaris recited in 7 different styles and this difference is according to their understanding of how the Quran should be read. It has nothing to do with the revelation from Allah (SWT). He revealed it only one way ie. one particular Qira’ah!
The fifth Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) says that the Quran is one and it has descended from one source ie. Allah (SWT). So where are the differences? He says that the differences originated from those who read the Quran.
This is the mainstream Shia opinion. The problem of 7 styles existing is the creation of the reciters and not a deficiency in revelation. Ayatollah Khoei adopts a very strong position and establishes the fact that the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) were in a firm opinion that the Quran was revealed with one style of Qira’ah and not different styles.
HADITH NARRATIONS SUPPORTING DIFFERENT MODES OF RECITATION IN SUNNI SOURCES
The mainstream Sunni opinion on this matter is different to ours. They say that there are Hadith narrations which give us an idea that Allah (SWT) and Rasulullah (SAWA) allowed people to read the Quran differently. And it is fine if you read it differently.
I would like to share some of those narrations supporting this position as it is quite interesting. In Sunni resources, there is a narration from ibn Abbas who narrates from Rasulullah (SAWA) that Angel Jibra-eel read the divine revelation to me with one style of reading. Rasulullah (SAWA) asked Angel Jbra-eel to provide more ways of reading, to which Angel Jibra-eel obliged until it reached 7 different styles.
Ubay ibn Ka’ab says that he arrived for salaah and heard the Quran being recited differently and said this surely cannot be the Quran? Another man came and he recited very differently too. Out of this confusion they all went to Rasulullah (SAWA) to establish clarity. Rasulullah (SAWA) said that both versions that were recited at that point were correct. However, Ubay ibn Ka’ab says that he did not like it.
Another interesting incident reported in this regard is that when Rasulullah (SAWA) saw Ubay ibn Ka’ab so undecided, Rasulullah (SAWA) told him that he has been told that the Quran can be recited in 7 different modes to make it easy for the Ummah (Muslim nation).
Hence, these Hadith narrations are known as the Hadith of 7 words.
Someone came to the second Caliph, Umar, who became angry at the style that this person read the Quran. He defended his recitation by saying Rasulullah (SAWA) accepted his recitation. So they both went to Rasulullah (SAWA), who informed Umar to remove the Satan from his chest as the Quran can be read differently as long as you do not change the verses of punishment to verses of blessings and vice versa.
There are many such types of narrations present in Sunni resources.
HADITH NARRATIONS SUPPORTING DIFFERENT MODES OF RECITATION IN SHIA SOURCES
Somehow, Sunni scholars say that these narrations are basically referring to the 7 Qira’ah and you can read in whichever way you choose. There is nothing wrong according to them. On the contrary, we find that the Ahlul Bait (a.s) opposed it quite strongly, saying that the divine revelation was in one mode only.
That being said, you will find some similar Hadith narrations in Shia resources too, like the ones cited from Sunni resources above. Ayatollah Khoei strongly resists against these Hadith for the following reasons:
1. The chain of narrators is extremely weak;
2. They contradict with the very principle statement of Ahlul Bait (a.s), that the Quran was revealed only on 1 Qira’h mode.
He therefore rejects all those Hadith for these reasons. Important to note that it is not a consensus in the Sunni world either. There is difference of opinion on what is the meaning of 7 words here. One of the opinions is 7 Qira’ah, but Suyuti and other scholars of the sciences of the Holy Quran from the Sunni world have gone to the limit of suggesting that there are 40 possibilities in the interpretation of this Hadith which talks about “7 words”. This means that interpreting it to mean 7 modes of Qira’ah is only one meaning out of 40 possible interpretations.
In some of the Hadith in Shia resources about the “7 words”, it is interpreted that this does not mean 7 styles of reading. Instead, what it means is that the major contents of the Quran can be divided into 7 categories of messages, which are:
• Forbidding (negative command);
So, Ayatollah Khoei and other notable scholars from the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s) believe that if we accept this hadith of “7 words”, it is referring to 7 types of messages in the Quran, instead of it referring to 7 styles of Quranic recitation.
Allah (SWT) has revealed the Holy Quran with the capacity that it can be read in different ways.
SATANIC INFLUENCES OF THE ORIENTALISTS AGENDA
Orientalists exploited this issue, suggesting that it proves that lots of corruption and confusion is at play in the compilation of the Holy Quran, with different people following their own Ijtihad and introducing new meanings to the divine revelation and have a direct implication to the message and understanding of the Holy Quran. So, according to them, the original Quran is missing and we do not know what this Quran really was.
Orientalists therefore used the differences in Qira’ah as an excuse to prove that the Quran has been tampered with. Our response to this lame accusation is that these are differences from the people and not from the Quran itself.
APPROACH OF AHLUL BAIT (A.S) TOWARDS THE DIFFERENT STYLES OF RECITATION
Once again, we see that the Ahlul Bait (a.s) showed amazing sensitivity as discussed in the previous lectures. People would ask Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) how we should read the Holy Quran, given the vast differences in recitation styles. Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) would advise that you should read it the same way that people do.
This once again shows the great vision of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), consistent with what their positive guidance was towards the Uthmaani version of the Quran. They did not make the Quran compilation of Imam Ali (a.s) public, but instead endorsed the Uthmaani version of the Quran. The Quran compilation of Imam Ali (a.s) became a trust with the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s).
They insisted that the Uthmaani version is the official version and the source of guidance which will lead you to Heaven if you follow it. They adopted the same position towards Qira’ah where they told people to read it the same way that others do.
According to Allama Hilli, we can read any of the 7 styles of Qira’ah in salaah. There is nothing wrong if you do this.
We have now concluded this very important discussion when it comes to our position as Shia on the 7 Qira’ah and hadith of “7 words”.
To be continued…..
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