Lecture 10 in the Ramadaan series:
EXPLORING THE SHIA APPROACH TO THE QURAN
Saturday 26 May 2018 (10 Ramadaan 1439) at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider.
To recap what we discussed in our previous lecture, regarding the compilation of the Holy Quran by the third Caliph of Islam (Uthmaan), we delved into a deeper understanding of the background and what were the reasons for differences and disputes which appeared in different versions of the Holy Quran which resulted in a standard Quran being established.
Copies of this standard Quran were produced and dispatched to the major Islamic hubs in the vast Islamic state, together with a capable Qari.
THE POSITION OF THE AHLUL BAIT (A.S) TOWARDS THE UTHMAANI VERSION OF QURAN
The opinion of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) on this standard version of the Holy Quran (established by the third Caliph) was affirmative. Unfortunately, the Ahlul Bait (a.s) were not part and parcel of this process to establish the version of Uthmaan, but they still regarded this standard Quran as the ONLY AUTHENTIC QURAN which is the only point of reference for the entire Ummah (Muslim nation) as well being a guarantee of salvation in this world and the Hereafter.
Even when they were asked about that version which was compiled by Imam Ali (a.s) immediately after the demise of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), they refused to make it public and instead referred their followers to accept the standard official version of the Holy Quran.
This position of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) is very important, which I cannot emphasize enough!
So, there is no other Quran besides the one we have in our hands today, even from the perspective of compilation. The Ahlul Bait (a.s) were extremely sensitive about this.
Let us recall our discussion about the history of the Quran, its protection and compilation. We discussed the compilation of the Quran during:
1. The lifetime of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA);
2. Then by Imam Ali ibn abu Talib (a.s);
3. Followed by the compilation of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, and
4. Then concluding with the compilation by the third Caliph, Uthmaan.
2. Muajjama – letters which have dots
UTHMAANI VERSION OF QURAN BECAME CONFUSING WITH THE EXPANDING ISLAMIC EMPIRE
We are now going to delve deeper into the discussion about inflections, vowels and the introduction of dots on letters. The standard, final version of the Holy Quran which was produced in the time of the third Caliph, Uthmaan, which superseded all previous versions (which were destroyed), was the only point of reference as the Holy Quran at that time.
Important to note that even this official Quran was without any vowels and dots on letters. In other words, there was no fatha, dhamma and kasra on any of the letters, nor were there any dot on letters like baa, noon, yaa, etc. It was written in the Kufan style of calligraphy, and the original style of Kufan calligraphy did not have these vowels or dots.
If you recall, I explained in our previous discussions that Arabs were very eloquent in their language. Their power of memory was also very strong. Therefore, for those Arabs, it was very easy for them to read from the Quran without its letters having any vowels or dots. This is the way it was, even in the time of the third Caliph. There was no need felt to put a dot or vowels where required.
Since the Islamic state and empire expanded, we find that many non-Arabs came with their own accents as well, in addition to the Arabs from the far remote areas. This Quran without vowels now became a very serious challenge.
MULTIPLE VARIATIONS IN MEANING OF THE SAME LETTERS IN ARABIC LANGUAGE
The Arabic language itself is a very unique language. If you do not know, then you can read a word in multiple variations, which would create multiple meanings. Let’s look at the following 3 words as an example:
Now, just imagine these 3 words without the dots. How will you read it? The same word can be read in multiple variations if you do not have the dots, and hence the meaning is completely different across all variations. So, as we explained earlier, vowels also play a very important role, even
if you have the dots in its rightful place. For example, if you say Zaidun, Zaidan or Zaidin – these 3 words have very different meanings, and this is a very simple example. There are much more complicated scenarios in reality.
We often wonder what scholars do all the years in the Islamic seminaries of Qum and Najaf! A major part of their life here is expended learning these linguistic technicalities, which we tend to think is very easy as we simply see fatha, dhamma and kasra. All that we learn is how to pronounce, but it goes way beyond that because the meaning is influenced through every slight change. This is called Ilm un Nahw, which we will discuss in this lecture too.
One part of the Tafsir (commentary) of the Holy Quran is the grammatical analysis of a verse, whereby we analyze the vowels. This is crucial because it has a direct impact on the meaning when it changes. Arabic is a very rich language.
52AH: ZIYAD REALISES THE BIG PROBLEM OF QURAN READING
A very serious problem ensued from these dynamics of the Arabic language. It is in 52AH when this situation became even more serious, and they realized that something needs to be done. In other words, this was during the era of Bani Umayyah.
There is a very interesting story, that there was a person by the name of Ziyad ibn Sumayya. He was the governor of Basra, Iraq. He has a son by the name Ubaidullah. Yes, this is the cursed Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad we all know about, who became the governor of Kufa and has a direct hand in the massacre of Karbala.
The story says that one day Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad was reading the Quran in an amazing manner and his father Ziyad (who was not a good person to talk about either) became very upset. Ziyad went to a person who was well-known for his command of the Arabic language and asked him to do something about this dilemma of people reading it in all different ways. As illustrated earlier, this is very possible without the dots and vowels.
That rich eloquence of Arabs together with its power of memory has now dissolved because the Islamic empire has expanded so wide, that it now includes Iranians, Romans, and people from different corners are influencing and infiltrating. The Islamic empire is now a “soup mix” of different cultural influences rather than being a rich Arab taste. So this is a very big problem.
ABU AL-ASWAD AL-DU’ALI: THE AUTHORITY ON ARABIC GRAMMAR
The person whom Ziyad ibn Sumayya contacted was Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali. This man refused to work with Ziyad on this, and we can understand why! However, Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali one day heard someone read this verse from the Holy Quran. I am deliberately sharing the transliteration in order to highlight the point of how easy it is to have a diametrically opposite meaning in the Arabic language:
Innallaha bariyyun minal mushrikeen wa Rasulih
“Allah is immune from (ie. has nothing to do with) idol-worshippers and His Rasul”
Innallaha bariyyun minal mushrikeen wa Rasuluhu
“Allah and His Rasul are immune from (ie. has nothing to do with) idol-worshippers”
This illustrates how easy it is to change the meaning through simply changing a vowel on one letter of the verse! Now, when Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali
heard someone reading the Holy Quran this way, he naturally got the shock of his life and immediately expressed that he is ready to do this job of establishing a formalized grammar system for the Holy Quran.
He requested for appropriately skilled people who could be his scribes. So, the Islamic state provided him with 50 people with expertise in this field, but he selected a person named Abdul Qays for to help him. Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali told Abdul Qays to take a pen and a Quran, but the ink of the pen must be a different colour to the colour of the lettering of the Quran.
Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali said that he will read the Quran to Abdul Qays, and if he opens both his lips then he (Abdul Qays) should put a dot on that letter, and if he brings his lips down, then a dot should be placed under that letter. Anyway, this is now getting into a detailed discussion about proper pronunciation of letters, but this was the exercise whereby inflections started in the Holy Quran by this personality called Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali.
Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali was a great man, who accepted Islam during the lifetime of Rasulullah (SAWA) but never saw him. Hence, he is not regarded as a Sahabi. He came back to Madina, and he is therefore regarded as “Tabi’i” and was a very pious person. This man is known as the father of Arabic grammar, and hence one of his titles is “King of the science of Arabic grammar”, which explains where a fatha, dhamma and kasra should be placed.
Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali learnt this from Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali (a.s) and he was deeply committed to the Ahlul Bait (a.s). This is what Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali did. He started with the number 1 (see attached), which had nothing, and then inserted the dots (in the second example):
Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali was also part of the army of Imam Ali (a.s) in the Battle of Jamal and Battle of Siffin. He was no doubt a great scholar, with amazing command on Arabic grammar.
INTRODUCTION OF DOTS
Fatha, Dhamma and Kasra are there, but not the way that we know it. It is there in the form of dots (refer to above diagram). However, there are no dots yet – as you can see the yaa before the meem at the end of the diagram does not have 2 dots under it. This came much later, around 65AH, and I think it was introduced during the era of Hajjaj ibn Yusuf.
This is when they realized that the major problem of reading the Holy Quran was not confined to Fatha, Dhamma and Kasra. They realized that an added problem is that they cannot distinguish between the words with dots and without dots. Hence, they decided to introduce dots!
The Arabic alphabet is of 2 types:
1. Muhmilah – letters which do not have dots
The original meaning of Ajam means dumb ie. cannot speak! So, it is not as if anybody who was non-Arab could not speak. However, because other people sounded differently, they said that they sound dumb.
Why is this process called Muajjama? The reason is to train non-Arabs to read!
In the year 65AH, 2 students of Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali, by the names of Yahya ibn Yamar and Nasr ibn Asim started the process of placing the dots ie. the Muajjama letters. This exercise provided clarity between the letters Sad and Dhadd, Raa and Zaa, Seen and Sheen, etc.
Now, the problem was that Fatha, Dhamma and Kasra were also symbolized by dots, as described in stage 2, which was the work of Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali. There are now too many dots, and the way that this was resolved was through colour-coding.
KHALIL IBN FARAHIDI INTRODUCED IDENTIFIERS TO THE QURAN WE USE TODAY
Further down, about 100 years later, they found this process to be very confusing where the inflections and vowels on every letter were characterized by dots. Along comes a person named Khalil ibn Farahidi who is recognised for creating the distinction in identifying Fatha, Dhamma and Kasra through an identifier other than dots. Confusion is therefore eliminated this way. He is the one who introduced Fatha, Dhamma and Kasra, Tanwin and Jasm the way that we know it today.
He also wrote an independent research work on the science of dots, because originally all identifiers on letters were dots. This is how the Quran came in the present format, as illustrated in 4 attached:
I need to also mention that the introduction of the dots and Fatha, Dhamma and Kasra the way that we know it, created a bit of consternation. There were those who were quite vociferous, saying that nothing can be added to the Quran, and it must remain untouched. Fatwas of Haraam were passed, but then these same people gradually realized that if this is not done, then people will read the Quran in all kinds of variations, like we discussed earlier.
So they gradually downscaled their condemnation to say that it is Makruh. Then, a little later they withdrew their condemnation by saying that it is fine, and then a little later these same people declared that it is impossible to read the Quran accurately without these identifiers (dots and Fatha, Dhamma and Kasra), and then concluded that it was compulsory!
UTHMAANI VERSION OF THE QURAN HAS SPELLING ERRORS
Another important point to make in this regard is that the manner in which the Uthmaani version of the Holy Quran was written or inscribed was very important. However, it had spelling mistakes, since it was written by human beings. So, these spelling mistakes occurred in the process of writing.
The question then arose down the line on whether these spelling errors should be fixed or not. Allama Ayatollah Hadi Marifat says that there were at least 7000 dictation mistakes in the Uthmaani version of the Quran, meaning errors in its writing (refer to some basic examples further below). Naturally, the key focus was then to rectify this, but again, there was a resistance by those who wanted to preserve the style in which the Uthmaani version of the Quran was written.
Their argument was that the Quran is superior to general Arabic rules of grammar and therefore should retain the Uthmaani style which is exceptional. They argued further that the authenticity of the Quran will be questioned if they try to fix these errors. This argument succeeded, and almost all Ulama until recent times (Sunni and Shia) agreed that we will keep the same script of the Quran as it was in the time of the third Caliph Uthmaan and we will not rectify.
The following are some simple examples:
1. We notice that there is an alif missing between the baa and seen in bismillah…the way we are supposed to write it should include an alif, even though the pronunciation is no different.
2. We note that there is also alif missing in the way we write certain names, like Ibrahim, Ismail, Ishaq, while we do have the pronunciation correct.
3. Another example is the omission of yaa in certain places
There are other examples as well, and this can become a lengthy list of spelling errors in the Quran. However, everyone agreed that it should be kept as is according to the Uthmaani version, and that version remains intact up until today.
The next discussion will be a very interesting exposition of how the reading of Quran (Qira’ah) developed into a science.
To be continued…..