An Intro­duc­tion to the Sci­ences of the Qur’an : The Ahruf of The Qur’aan

Chap­ter 10 of An Intro­duc­tion to the Sci­ences of the Qur’aan, pp. 172 – 183 (1999), Al-Hidaayah Pub­lish­ing and Dis­tri­b­u­tion. Com­piled by Usman Sheikh


1. The Mean­ing of the Word Ahruf’

The word ahruf is the plur­al of harf. Lin­guis­ti­cal­ly, harf’ has a num­ber of mean­ings, including :

1) A let­ter or a word.’ Al-huruf al-abjadiyya, for exam­ple, means the let­ters of the alphabet.

2) The bor­der, the edge of some­thing, the brink.’ For exam­ple, Allaah says,

The Ahruf of The Qur'aan 1
And among mankind is he who wor­ships Allaah (as it were) upon a harf (i.e., upon the very edge, or in doubt)” [22:11]

3) To swerve from the truth, to dis­tort.’ Allaah says con­cern­ing the Jews,

The Ahruf of The Qur'aan 2
…they have dis­placed (lit., yahar­i­fu­na) words from their right places…” [4:46]

Its exact def­i­n­i­tion in Qur’aan­ic sci­encs is the sub­ject mat­ter of this chap­ter, and there­fore can­not be defined at this point. How­ev­er, a tem­po­rary def­i­n­i­tion maybe giv­en as fol­lows : The ahruf are the var­i­ous ways that the vers­es of the Qur’aan are read. Imaam al-Qur­tubee (d. 671 A.H.) said, Every vari­a­tion of a word in the Qur’aan is said to be a harf. So, for exam­ple, when we say the harf of Ibn Mas’ood, it means the way that Ibn Mas’ood used to recite that verse or word.“1

Most Eng­lish authors trans­late ahruf as modes’ or dialects.’ How­ev­er, in this book the word will be left in Ara­bic since the mean­ing is broad­er than these trans­lat­ed words.

II. The Num­ber of Ahruf of the Qur’aan

The Qur’aan was revealed in sev­en ahruf. The proof for this is found in many nar­ra­tions from the Prophet (PBUH), so much so that it reach­es the lev­el of mutawaatir.2 Jalaal ad-Deen as-Suy­ootee lists twen­ty-one Com­pan­ions who nar­rat­ed that the Qur’aan was revealed in sev­en ahruf.3 Some of these nar­ra­tions are as follows :

1) Ibn Abbaas report­ed that the Prophet (PBUH) said, Jibreel recit­ed the Qur’aan to me in one harf, and I recit­ed it back to him, but I request­ed him to increase (the num­ber of harf) and he con­tin­ued to increase it for me, until we stopped at sev­en ahruf.” Ibn Shi­haab az-Zuhree (d. 124 A.H.), one of the nar­ra­tors of the hadeeth, said, It has reached me that these sev­en ahruf are essen­tial­ly one (in mean­ing), they do not dif­fer about what is per­mit­ted or for­bid­den.“4

2) Ubay ibn Ka’ab report­ed that the Prophet (PBUH) was once on the out­skirts of Madeenah (near the tribe of Banoo Ghi­faar) when Jibreel came to him and said, Allaah has com­mand­ed that you recite the Qur’aan to your peo­ple in one harf.” The Prophet (PBUH) replied, I ask Allaah’s par­don and for­give­ness ! My peo­ple are not capa­ble of doing this!” Jibreel then came again and said, Allaah has com­mand­ed you to recite the Qur’aan to your peo­ple in two ahruf.” The Prophet (PBUH) again replied, I ask Allaah’s par­don and for­give­ness ! My peo­ple are not capa­ble of doing this!” Jibreel then came a third time and said, Allaah has com­mand­ed you to recite the Qur’aan to your peo­ple in three ahruf.” The Prophet (PBUH) replied for a third time, I ask Allaah’s par­don and for­give­ness ! My peo­ple are not capa­ble of doing this!” At last, Jibreel came for the fourth time, and said, Allaah has com­mand­ed you to recite the Qur’aan to your peo­ple in sev­en ahruf, and in whichev­er harf they recite, they would be right.5

3) Umar ibn al-Khat­tab nar­rat­ed, I was sit­ting in the masjid when I heard Hishaam ibn Hakeem recite Soorah al-Furqaan. I was almost about the jump on him in his prayer, but I wait­ed until he fin­ished, and then grabbed him by his gar­ment and asked him, Who taught you to recite in such a man­ner?’ ” He replied, It was the Prophet (PBUH) him­self!’ I respond­ed, You are mis­tak­en, for indeed I learnt this soorah from the Prophet (PBUH) and it was dif­fer­ent from your recita­tion!’ There­fore, I dragged him to the Prophet (PBUH) and com­plained to him that Hishaam had recit­ed Soorah al-Furqaan in a man­ner dif­fer­ent from what he (PBUH) had taught me. At this, the Prophet (PBUH) told me to let go of Hishaam, and asked him to recite Soorah al-Furqaan. Hishaam recit­ed the Soorah in the same way I had heard him before. When he fin­ished, the Prophet (PBUH) said, It was revealed this way.’ He then asked me to recite the same soorah. When I had fin­ished, he (PBUH) said, It was (also) revealed this way. Indeed, the Qur’aan has been revealed in sev­en dif­fer­ent ahruf, so recite whichev­er one is easy for you.‘6

4) In a sto­ry sim­i­lar to Umar’s, Ubay ibn Ka’ab also heard two peo­ple recit­ing the Qur’aan in a man­ner dif­fer­ent from what he had learnt. After some dis­cus­sion, both par­ties went to the Prophet (PBUH) and recit­ed the same por­tion to him. He (PBUH) approved of both par­ties’ recita­tions. At this point, Ubay nar­rates, “…there occurred in my mind a sort of denial and doubt that did not exist even in the time of Jaahilliyah (before Islaam)! When the Mes­sen­ger (PBUH) saw how I was affect­ed, he struck my chest, where­upon I start­ed sweat­ing, and felt as though I were look­ing at Allaah in fear ! Then the Prophet (PBUH) said, O Ubay ! A mes­sage was sent to me to recite the Qur’aan in one harf, but I request­ed (Allaah) to make things easy on my nation. A sec­ond mes­sage came that I should recite the Qur’aan in two ahruf, but I again made the same request. I was then ordered to recite the Qur’aan in sev­en ahruf.’ 7

5) Ubay ibn Ka’ab nar­rates that once the Prophet (PBUH) met Jibreel, and sais, O Jibreel ! I have been sent to an illit­er­ate nation. Among them are old and young men and women, and those who have nev­er read any writ­ing!” Jibreel answered him, O Muham­mad, the Qur’aan has been revealed in sev­en ahruf!“8

There are many oth­er hadeeth that con­firm that the Qur’aan was revealed in sev­en ahruf, but these nar­ra­tions will suf­fice for the present discussion.

III. What is Meant by the Ahruf of the Qur’aan ?

Before dis­cussing the answer to this ques­tion, it would be use­ful to men­tion some points that can be inferred from the above narrations :

1) The dif­fer­ent ahruf are all direct­ly from Allaah, and not from the Com­pan­ions. In all the nar­ra­tions where the Com­pan­ions dif­fered from each oth­er, it was clear that each one had been taught direct­ly from the Prophet (PBUH), who was inspired by Allaah. This is why the Prophet (PBUH) said to each one of the ahruf recit­ed by Umar and Hishaam, It was revealed this way.”

2) The rea­son the Prophet (PBUH) request­ed the num­ber of ahruf to be increased was to make the mem­o­ri­sa­tion and recita­tion of the Qur’aan eas­i­er for his Ummah. The Prophet (PBUH) prayed to increase the ahruf because in his ummah were “…old and young men and women, and those who have nev­er read any writ­ing.” There­fore, the lim­i­ta­tions of the Qur’aan being in only one harf have been removed by Allaah as a bless­ing for this Ummah.

3) The Prophet (PBUH) used to teach the dif­fer­ent ahruf to dif­fer­ent Com­pan­ions, depend­ing on the con­di­tion and sit­u­a­tion of that Com­pan­ion. It can be assumed that the Prophet (PBUH) chose the par­tic­u­lar harf to recite to a Com­pan­ion depend­ing on which one would be the eas­i­est for that par­tic­u­lar Com­pan­ion to mem­o­rise, since the pur­pose of the ahruf was to sim­pli­fy recita­tion and mem­o­ri­sa­tion. The Prophet (PBUH) did not teach all the ahruf to all the Com­pan­ions, for Umar and Hishaam did not know about the exis­tence of the dif­fer­ent ahruf. Also, the cause for Ubay’s doubt was the fact that he was unaware of these ahruf, and the Prophet (PBUH) had to pray to Allaah to remove his doubts.

4) The dif­fer­ences between these ahruf were not so great as to pre­vent recog­ni­tion of what was being recit­ed. In oth­er words, even though Hishaam was recit­ing the Qur’aan in a dif­fer­ent harf than Umar, Umar could still recog­nise that Hishaam was recit­ing Soorah al-Furqaan, thus show­ing that the ahruf were not rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from each oth­er. Also, the nar­ra­tion of Ibn Shi­haab shows that the basic mean­ing of all these ahruf was the same.

5) Each one of these ahruf is com­plete in and of itself. The proof for this is the state­ment of the Prophet (PBUH) “…so whichev­er one of them they recite, they are cor­rect.” This is not to say that the ahruf do not com­ple­ment one anoth­er in mean­ing, but rather that the recita­tion of the Qur’aan in one harf is sufficient.

6) The num­ber of ahruf is exact­ly sev­en — not more, not less. The Prophet (PBUH) asked Jibreel to increase the num­ber of ahruf until Jibreel reached sev­en ahruf ; there­fore inter­pre­ta­tions to the effect that sev­en’ indi­cates an unspec­i­fied plu­ral­i­ty (this is the opin­ion of Qaadee Iyaad (d. 504 A.H.)) are false.

How­ev­er, one nar­ra­tion in the Mus­nad of Imaam Ahmad states that the Qur’aan was revealed in three ahruf, and yet anoth­er nar­ra­tion states that it was revealed in ten ahruf. Some schol­ars have tried to explain the first nar­ra­tion as mean­ing that, in the Makkan stage, the Qur’aan was revealed in three ahruf, where­as in the Madeenan stage, Allaah increased this to sev­en ahruf. Oth­er schol­ars have giv­en dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions to rec­on­cile these hadeeth.9 How­ev­er, there is no need to resort to such expla­na­tions, since both of these nar­ra­tions are weak.10 There­fore, the Qur’aan was revealed in exact­ly sev­en ahruf.

7) The rev­e­la­tion of the Qur’aan in sev­en ahruf start­ed in Madeenah, after the hijrah. In one of the nar­ra­tions, the phrase, “…while the Prophet (PBUH) was on the out­skirts of Madeenah,” indi­cates that this occurred after the hijrah.

8) A last ben­e­fit that can be inferred from these hadeeth (although this is not rel­e­vant to the ahruf) is the con­cern shown by the Com­pan­ions in the preser­va­tion of the cor­rect recita­tion of the Qur’aan. In all the cas­es quot­ed above, the Com­pan­ions were not con­tent with lis­ten­ing to recita­tions that were dif­fer­ent from theirs — despite the fact that these recita­tions were said to have been learnt from the Prophet (PBUH) — until they had tak­en the mat­ter to the Prophet (PBUH) himself.

As for what is meant by these sev­en ahruf, there is a great deal of dif­fer­ence on this issue. Ibn Qutay­bah (d. 276 A.H.) record­ed thir­ty-five opin­ions on this issue, and as-Suy­ootee list­ed over forty. Ibn Sa’adan (d. 231 A.H.), a famous gram­mar­i­an and reciter of the Qur’aan, even declared that the true mean­ing of the ahruf was known only to Allaah, and thus to attempt to inves­ti­gate into this issue was futile ! On the oth­er hand, Imaam Muham­mad ibn al-Jaza­ree (d. 832 A.H.), per­haps the great­est schol­ar of the qira’aat after the era of the salaf, said, I have sought to dis­cov­er the mean­ing of these hadeeth (about the ahruf), and have pon­dered over them, and con­tem­plat­ed this top­ic for over thir­ty years, until Allaah opened my mind to that which is the cor­rect answer in this mat­ter, Inshaa Allaah!“11

The rea­son that such a great dif­fer­ence of opin­ion exists con­cern­ing the exact mean­ing of the ahruf is due to the fact that there does not exist any explic­it nar­ra­tion from the Prophet (PBUH), or the salaf, con­cern­ing the exact nature of the ahruf ; these var­i­ous opin­ions are mere­ly the con­clu­sions of lat­er schol­ars, based upon their exam­i­na­tion of the evi­dences and their per­son­al rea­son­ing (ijti­haad).

There­fore, it should be under­stood from the out­set that to arrive at one spe­cif­ic con­clu­sion, and claim with cer­tain­ty that it alone is cor­rect and all else is wrong, is pure fol­ly. What is desired, how­ev­er, is to nar­row down the var­i­ous opin­ions and elim­i­nate as many as pos­si­ble based upon evidences.

All of these opin­ions can be divid­ed into three broad cat­e­gories, which are dis­cussed in the fol­low­ing sec­tions.12


In this cat­e­go­ry fall those opin­ions which do not have any hadeeth to sup­port them, nor do they make log­i­cal sense. Some of these are :

1) Sev­en dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of text. For exam­ple : con­strained and uncon­strained, gen­er­al and spe­cif­ic, lit­er­al and metaphor­ic, naasikh and man­sookh. Oth­er cat­e­gories include those giv­en by gram­mar­i­ans and lin­guists, spec­i­fy­ing dif­fer­ent verb forms.

2) An eso­teric inter­pre­ta­tion by cer­tain Soofi groups, claim­ing that there are sev­en lev­els of knowl­edge, or sev­en degrees of mean­ings to each verse.

3) Sev­en dif­fer­ent branch­es of knowl­edge, such as tawheed, sha­ree’ah, etc.

All these opin­ions con­tra­dict the pur­pose of the ahruf, name­ly to make the recita­tion of the Qur’aan eas­i­er for the Ummah. Also, there is no proof for these opin­ions, and they con­tra­dict com­mon sense.


Includ­ed in this cat­e­go­ry are the fol­low­ing opinions :

1) These ahruf are sev­en dif­fer­ent ways to pro­nounce the words, with­out actu­al­ly chang­ing the let­ters. How­ev­er, this opin­ion con­tra­dicts the vari­a­tions in words that occur in the qira’aat.

2) The ahruf are sev­en types of vers­es in the Qur’aan : appar­ent, com­mand, rec­om­men­da­tion, spe­cif­ic, par­tic­u­lar, gen­er­al and para­ble. There is a weak hadeeth to sup­port this.

3) Sim­i­lar to the above, and also based on a weak hadeeth, the dif­fer­ent types are : com­mands, pro­hi­bi­tions, promis­es, occur­rences, halaal and haraam, clear and ambigu­ous.13

4) The sev­en ahruf are the same as the sev­en qira’aat. This is con­tra­dict­ed his­tor­i­cal­ly, as there are more than sev­en qira’aat, and the col­lec­tion and cod­i­fi­ca­tion of the qira’aat occurred four cen­turies after the Prophet’s (PBUH) death.14 None of the major schol­ars of Islaam held this view, as Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 A.H.) said, There is no dif­fer­ence of opin­ion among the schol­ars that the sev­en ahruf are not the same as the sev­en famous qira’aat.“15

Unforunate­ly, most of the Mus­lim mass­es under­stand hadeeth of the ahruf to refer to the qira’aat.


These opin­ions are the ones that are wor­thy of seri­ous inspec­tion, as they have strong evi­dence his­tor­i­cal­ly and from the mean­ings of the ahaadeeth. There are three opin­ions in this category.

1) The sev­en ahruf refer to the sev­en dialects (lughaat) of the Arabs preva­lent at the time of the Prophet (PBUH). Each of these dialects belongs to a tribe among the Arabs, name­ly, the Quraysh, Hud­hayl, Tameem, Hawaazin, Thaqeef, Kinaanah and Yemen. (oth­er schol­ars gave the names of oth­er tribes). Thus, under this opin­ion, var­i­ous vers­es would be pro­nounced accord­ing to the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of that par­tic­u­lar tribe, and words from one dialect would be replaced by oth­er words used by that par­tic­u­lar tribe.

Some schol­ars say that these sev­en dialects are spread through­out the Qur’aan, mean­ing that part of the Qur’aan is in the dialect of the Quraysh, oth­er parts are in the dialect of Hud­hayl, and so forth. Oth­ers say that the entire Qur’aan is recit­ed in each of these dialects, thus form­ing the sev­en ahruf.

This was the opin­ion of Aboo Ubayd al-Qaasim ibn Sal­laam (d. 224 A.H.), al-Bay­haqee (d. 458 A.H.), Ibn Attiyah (d. 541 A.H.) and others.

2) The sev­en ahruf denote sev­en ways of recita­tion (laha­jaat) such that words are replaced by their syn­onyms. In oth­er words, the sev­en ahruf have the exact same mean­ings but dif­fer­ent wordings.

This was the opin­ion of Imaam at-Taba­ree (d. 311 A.H.), at-Tahaawee (d. 321 A.H.), Ibn Abd al-Barr (d. 463 A.H.) and others.

3) The sev­en ahruf refer to sev­en dif­fer­ent ways that the verse can be changed. In oth­er words, when­ev­er a dif­fer­ence is found between these ahruf, this type of dif­fer­ence will fall into one of the fol­low­ing sev­en cat­e­gories :16

  1. Change in word­ing. For exam­ple, in 101:5, ka al-‘ihni il-man­foosh is changed to ka as-soof il-man­foosh, both of which mean the same thing.
  2. Dif­fer­ences in word­ings or let­ters such that they con­form to the vow­el­less, dot­less script of Uth­maan.17 For exam­ple, fatabayanoo is changed to fatatha­ba­too in 49:6, just by chang­ing the dots. Also, in Sooral al-Faati­hah, maa­li­ki is changed to mali­ki with­out any change in the script of Uth­maan.
  3. Change in word order. For exam­ple, in 2:195, wa qaatalu wa qutilu is changed to wa qutilu wa qaatalu.
  4. Addi­tion or sub­trac­tion of a let­ter or word. For exam­ple, in 57:24, fa inna Allaahu hoowa al-ghaniyul hameed is recit­ed with­out the pro­noun, fa ina Allaah al-ghaniyul hameed.
  5. The form of the word struc­ture is changed. This change could be from plur­al to sin­gu­lar or dual (or oth­er vari­a­tions), or from fem­i­nine to mas­cu­line. For exam­ple, in 23:8, the plur­al li amanaati­him is changed to the sin­gu­lar li ama­nati­him.
  6. Dif­fer­ences in inflec­tion points. For exam­ple, 2:125, wa attakhad­hoo mim maqaa­mi Ibraa­heema musal­laa is read in the com­mand wat­takhid­hoo.
  7. Dif­fer­ences in pro­nun­ci­a­tion. For exam­ple, less­en­ing the effect of cer­tain hamzahs (called tas-heel) or pro­nounc­ing cer­tain alifs and yaas dif­fer­ent­ly (called imaalah).

This was the opin­ion of Ibn Qutay­bah (d. 276 A.H.), al-Baaqil­laani (d. 403 A.H.), Mak­kee ibn Abee Taal­ib (d. 437 A.H.), ar-Raazee (d. 606 A.H.), Ibn al-Jaza­ree (d. 832 A.H.), and oth­ers. Some of them give dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories, but their gen­er­al the­sis is the same.

Among these three opin­ion, the third one seems to have the least weight. Despite the fact that it clas­si­fies the dif­fer­ences in the ahruf into inge­nious cat­e­gories, it does not explain the essence of what the ahruf are. In oth­er words, when Hishaam was recit­ing a dif­fer­ent harf from Umar, he was prob­a­bly dif­fer­ing with Umar in more than one of these sev­en cat­e­gories. There­fore, the third def­i­n­i­tion does not real­ly answer the ques­tion as to the mean­ing of the ahruf.

The first two opin­ions, on the oth­er hand, have very strong evi­dences to sup­port them.18 It seems — and Allaah knows best — that both of these opin­ions have an ele­ment of truth in them, and there does not exist any grounds for reject­ing either of them.

There­fore, it is con­clud­ed that the sev­en ahruf rep­re­sent vari­a­tions based upon, but not lim­it­ed to, the most flu­ent Arab tribes of that time. These vari­a­tions occurred in words, let­ters, and pro­nun­ci­a­tions, such that all these vari­a­tions made it eas­i­er for the Com­pan­ions to mem­o­rise the Qur’aan. These vari­a­tions did not always reach sev­en dif­fer­ent ways of recita­tion for each verse, but when­ev­er such vari­a­tions exist­ed, the dif­fer­ent ways of recita­tion nev­er exceed­ed sev­en.19

IV. Are the Ahruf in Exis­tence Today ?

A very cru­cial ques­tion tha­ta ris­es is whether these sev­en ahruf are still present today.

Of course, this ques­tion in essence depends upon how one defines the ahruf. For exam­ple, az-Zar­qaa­nee strong­ly argues that all the ahruf have been pre­served, but this goes back to his def­i­n­i­tion that the ahruf rep­re­sent sev­en ways that the verse can be changed (opin­ion (3) above). Thus, since these vari­a­tions are still present in today’s qira’aat, he argues that all sev­en ahruf have been pre­served.20 The present dis­cus­sion will, of course, utilise the def­i­n­i­tion that was con­clud­ed upon in the pre­vi­ous section.

The schol­ars of Islaam are divid­ed into three opin­ions with regards to this issue.

The first group of schol­ars, com­posed of at-Taba­ree (d. 310 A.H.), at-Tahaawee (d. 321 A.H.), Ibn Hib­baan (d. 354 A.H.) and those who fol­low them, argue that only one harf is in exis­tence today. At-Taba­ree holds that the recita­tion of the Qur’aan in sev­en ahruf was a con­ces­sion giv­en to the Com­pan­ions at the time of the Prophet (PBUH), but when Uth­maan ofi­cial­ly com­piled the Qur’aan, he specif­i­cal­ly ordered the com­mit­tee assigned to write the mus-haf to pre­serve only one harf. He writes, The only recita­tion that the Mus­lims have today is the one harf that their pious Imaam (‘Uth­maan) chose for them, leav­ing the remain­ing six.“21 He is allud­ing to the state­ment of Uth­maan to the com­mit­tee that wrote the mus-haf, “… if you dif­fer in (the spelling) of a word, then write it in the script of the Quraysh.“22 Thus, accord­ing to at-Taba­ree and those who fol­low his opin­ion, shows that Uth­maan pre­served only one harf.

In response to the ques­tion, How could Uth­maan and the Com­pan­ions pur­pose­ly have left out the oth­er six ahruf?” at-Taba­ree answers :23

The sev­en ahruf were revealed by Allaah dur­ing the time of the Prophet (PBUH) to facil­i­tate the mem­o­ri­sa­tion of the Qur’aan, since the dialects of the Arabs were many. This facil­i­ta­tion (i.e., the ahruf) was not nec­es­sary to pre­serve, and even­tu­al­ly there was no need of it. In fact, it became the cause of dis­sen­sion amongst the Mus­lims, as those peo­ple new to Islaam began argu­ing over the dif­fer­ences in the recita­tion of the Qur’aan. There­fore, Allaah inspired24 Uth­maan to dis­card the oth­er six ahruf and col­lect the Qur’aan in one harf, so that the ummah would be unit­ed in its recita­tion. The Com­pan­ions agreed to this action of his, and the agree­ment of the Com­pan­ions is bind­ing on the ummah.”

The sec­ond group of schol­ars holds that all of the ahruf are in exis­tence today, and the mus-haf of Uth­maan was writ­ten to pre­serve all sev­en ahruf. This was the opin­ion of Aboo Bakr al-Baaqil­laani (d. 403 A.H.), and a small group of schol­ars. They claim that the Com­pan­ions would nev­er aban­don a recita­tion that they used to recite dur­ing the life­time of the Prophet (PBUH), and that they would not dis­card any knowl­edge that the Prophet (PBUH) had giv­en them.

The third group of schol­ars is com­posed of Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 724 A.H.), ash-Shaat­i­bee (d. 790 A.H.), ar-Raazee (d. 606 A.H.), Ibn Katheer (d. 774 A.H.), Ibn al-Jaza­ree (d. 832 A.H.) and oth­ers. They argue that Uth­maan pre­served the ahruf to the extent that the script of his mus-haf allowed him to do so. Thus, these schol­ars hold that a por­tion of the sev­en ahruf are preserved.

The ques­tion then aris­es : On what basis did Uth­maan decide which por­tion of the ahruf to pre­serve ? The answer to this is twofold : First, Zayd ibn Thaabit was in charge of the col­lec­tion of the mus-haf. Zayd had been present when the Prophet (PBUH) recit­ed the whole Qur’aan for the last time, only months before his death.25 It can be assumed, then, that Zayd was aware of the por­tions of the ahruf that the Prophet (PBUH) recit­ed, and he must have cho­sen those to the exclu­sion of the oth­ers. Sec­ond­ly, the Com­pan­ions unan­i­mous­ly agreed to dis­card all read­ings that con­flict­ed with the mus-haf of Uth­maan. Obvi­ous­ly, they would elim­i­nate only that which they knew was not a part of the Qur’aan, and their con­sen­sus is bind­ing on the ummah.

Ibn al-Jaza­ree (d. 832 A.H.) writes,26

The major­i­ty of the schol­ars of the salaf and the lat­er gen­er­a­tions are of the opin­ion that the Uth­maan­ic mus-hafs con­tains of the sev­en ahruf only that which its script allows. (What is pre­served) are the recita­tions that the Prophet (PBUH) recit­ed to Jibreel (dur­ing the last year of his life). The present mus-haf con­tains all this read­ing, and not a sin­gle let­ter from it is missing.”

The third opin­ion (i.e., that a por­tion of the sev­en ahruf have been pre­served) seems to be the strongest one, for the fol­low­ing reasons :

1) The Com­pan­ions were metic­u­lous in pre­serv­ing the knowl­edge that they recieved from the Prophet (PBUH). They under­stood their respon­si­bil­i­ty in trans­fer­ring this vast knowl­edge to the ummah. It is because of this con­cern of theirs that detailed infor­ma­tion exists about every top­ic of Islaam, so much so that the Mus­lims even know how many while hairs the Prophet’s (PBUH) beard con­tained !27 There­fore, it can­not be said that the Com­pan­ions pur­pose­ly left out six ahruf and pre­served only one of them in the mus-haf of Uth­maan with­out bring­ing forth some strong, unequiv­o­cal proof. Al-Qaa­ree writes,

This opin­ion (that the Com­pan­ions left out six ahruf) is strange, and extreme­ly weak, for it claims that a part of the Qur’aan was removed by con­sen­sus of the Com­pan­ions, since each of the ahruf is part of the Qur’aan. There­fore, how could Uth­maan, or any of the Com­pan­ions for that mat­ter, or rather all of the Com­pan­ions, dis­card some­thing from the Qur’aan with­out a clear proof from the Cre­ator ? Even if we say that the Com­pan­ions were giv­en the con­ces­sion of choos­ing one harf to recite in, as at-Taba­ree (d. 310 A.H.) claims, and they were not account­able for all sev­en ahruf since it was a con­ces­sion from Allaah, we say : This con­ces­sion was giv­en so that they could chose to recite the Qur’aan in any one of these sev­en ahruf, whichev­er was the eas­i­est for them. There was no con­ces­sion, how­ev­er, in pre­serv­ing these ahruf, rather they were respon­si­ble for pre­serv­ing all of them… that were not abro­gat­ed…“28

2) The Uth­maan­ic mus-hafs, as was men­tioned ear­li­er, were devoid of dots and vow­el points. Since this knowl­edge was avail­able to the Arabs at that time,29 it seems like­ly that the mus-haf was pur­pose­ly writ­ten with­out these dots or inflec­tion points so that it would encom­pass dif­fer­ent read­ings, and hence the dif­fer­ent ahruf. Also, as was men­tioned in the rel­e­vant chap­ter, the script of the Uth­maan­ic mus-haf was writ­ten with spe­cif­ic rules in mind, appar­ent­ly in order to accom­mo­date the var­i­ous recita­tions, and this shows that the mus-haf was writ­ten with the intent to pre­serve more than one harf.

3) If, as at-Taba­ree holds, only one harf has been pre­served, from where then do the dif­fer­ences in the ten qira’aat orig­i­nate from ? All schol­ars are unan­i­mous that these ten qira’aat orig­i­nat­ed from the Prophet (PBUH) him­self ; there­fore it seems appar­ent that the qira’aat have some inte­gral rela­tion­ship with the ahruf (as shall be dis­cussed in the next chap­ter). Con­cern­ing this issue, Imaam at-Taba­ree is forced to con­tra­dict his stance, as Mak­kee ibn Abee Taal­ib (d. 437 A.H.) point­ed out :

At-Taba­ree con­cedes to the fact that the var­i­ous qira’aat that con­form to the mus-haf of Uth­maan are a part of the sev­en ahruf, and this is what we also believe. How­ev­er, he also claims… that the mus-haf (of Uth­maan) has only pre­served one harf, to the exclu­sion of the oth­er six. These two posi­tions are con­tra­dic­to­ry…“30

4) The dif­fer­ent mus-haf that Uth­maan ordered to be writ­ten were not iden­ti­cle to each oth­er, for in a num­ber of places, the addi­tion or dele­tion of a word or let­ter occurred in some of the mus-hafs.31 This change is reflect­ed in the var­i­ous qira’aat in exis­tence today, for with­in the ten qira’aat, there exist word changes and word addi­tions that could not have orig­i­nat­ed from the same mus-haf. It seems appar­ent this was done with a goal in mind, and the strongest con­clu­sion seems to be that, by these dif­fer­ences in the mus-hafs, Uth­maan had intend­ed to pre­serve the dif­fer­ences in the ahruf.

These same four argu­ments, how­ev­er, can­not be used for the sec­ond opin­ion (that all the ahruf were actu­al­ly pre­served), because of that fact that cer­tain vari­a­tions that the Com­pan­ions used to recite as part of the Qur’aan are now no longer a part of the Qur’aan (as will be explained in the chap­ters of naskh and qira’aat). These vari­ant read­ings can be explained as hav­ing been a part of the sev­en ahruf before the final read­ing of the Qur’aan by the Prophet (PBUH) to Jibreel. This read­ing, which took place before Zayd ibn Thaabit, can­celled the ahruf that Uth­maan did not pre­serve.32 Imaam al-Qis­til­laa­nee (d. 923 A.H.) said, In this (last) recita­tion of the Prophet (PBUH) to Jibreel, there were two ben­e­fits : First, to strength­en and pre­serve the Prophet’s (PBUH) mem­o­ri­sa­tion of the Qur’aan, and, sec­ond, to affirm those vers­es that were not abro­gat­ed and to indi­cate which vers­es were.“412 Uwais, p. 8.

V. The Wis­dom in the Var­i­ous Ahruf

Obvi­ous­ly, it can­not be said for cer­tain that exact wis­dom behind any Divine act, for the Cre­ator’s knowl­edge is infi­nite. How­ev­er, the schol­ars of Islaam have said that the rev­e­la­tion of the Qur’aan in sev­en ahruf had the fol­low­ing ben­e­fits :33

1) To facil­i­tate the mem­o­ri­sa­tion of the Qur’aan. This is the only ben­e­fit that is explic­it­ly nar­rat­ed in the hadeeth. The Arabs did not all speak Ara­bic in the same way ; each tribe and loca­tions had slight vari­a­tions and pecu­liar­i­ties unique to it. If the Qur’aan had only been revealed in one harf, it would have been dif­fi­cult for the many dif­fer­ent Arab tribes to mem­o­rise the Qur’aan prop­er­ly. How­ev­er, since the Qur’aan was revealed in sev­en ahruf, this great­ly eased its mem­o­ri­sa­tion. This was of pri­ma­ry impor­tance in its preser­va­tion and propagation.

2) To prove the mirac­u­lous nature of the Qur’aan. For despite all of these dif­fer­ences, the mean­ings of the ahruf did not con­tra­dict one anoth­er, but rather were complementary.

3) To prove the truth­ful­ness of the Prophet Muham­mad (PBUH), for despite the fact that he was illit­er­ate, the rev­e­la­tion of the Qur’aan occurred in dif­fer­ent trib­al dialects and dif­fer­ent words, all of which con­sist­ed of the most flu­ent and elo­quent speech of his time.

4) To hon­our the ummah of the Prophet Muham­mad (PBUH), and show its supe­ri­or­i­ty over all oth­er nations. No oth­er nations had been giv­en its book in such a man­ner, in vary­ing ahruf, to ease the process of preser­va­tion. Thus, the rev­e­la­tion of the Qur’aan showed the unique sta­tus that the Prophet (PBUH), and his ummah, occu­pied over oth­er nations. In one hadeeth, the Prophet (PBUH) remarked, The ear­li­er books would be revealed from one door (of heav­en), in one harf, but the Qur’aan was revealed from sev­en doors (of Heav­en), in sev­en ahruf.“34Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Abu Ammaar Yasir Qad­hi, An Intro­duc­tion to the Sci­ences of the Qur’an : The Ahruf of The Qur’aan,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Octo­ber 9, 2005, last accessed March 2, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​q​u​r​a​n​/​t​h​e​-​a​h​r​u​f​-​o​f​-​t​h​e​-​q​u​r​a​an/
  1. 380 Ubay­daat, p. 153.[]
  2. 381 A mutawaatir hadeeth is one that is report­ed by a large num­ber of nar­ra­tors in every stage of the chain, so much so that they could not all be mis­tak­en or agree upon a lie.[]
  3. 382 as-Suy­ootee, vol. 1, p. 45.[]
  4. 383 Nar­rat­ed by al-Bukhaa­ree and Mus­lim[]
  5. 384 Nar­rat­ed by Mus­lim.[]
  6. 385 Nar­rat­ed by al-Bukhaa­ree and Mus­lim.[]
  7. 386 Nar­rat­ed by Mus­lim[]
  8. 387 Nar­rat­ed by at-Tir­mid­hee[]
  9. 388 cf. Itr, pps. 78 – 80.[]
  10. 389 cf., al-Albaa­nee, Da’eed al-Jaa­mi’, # 1335 and 1339.[]
  11. 390 Itr, p. 10.[]
  12. 391 cf. al-Hamad, pps. 133 – 144 ; az-Zar­qaa­nee, v.1, pps. 137 – 191 ; Itr, 122 – 190.[]
  13. 392 For a dis­cus­sion of the weak­ness in the above two hadeeth, see Itr, p. 138.[]
  14. 393 See the next chap­ter for fur­ther details on the qira’aat.[]
  15. 394 Zarzur, p. 186.[]
  16. 395 All of these vari­a­tions, except for the first, are found in the present-day qira’aat.[]
  17. 396 The man­u­script of Uth­maan did not have dots or dia­crit­i­cal marks to dis­tin­guish between cer­tain let­ters and vow­els. See Chap­ter 8, on The Col­lec­tion of the Qur’aan.”[]
  18. 397 See Itr, pps. 168 – 177.[]
  19. 398 cf. al-Qaree, p. 79, and al-Hamad’s con­clu­sion, p. 144, which is very sim­i­lar to this one.[]
  20. 399 az-Zar­qa­nee, v. 1, p. 170 – 172.[]
  21. 400 al-Hamad, p. 147.[]
  22. 401 See Chap­ter 8 for a dis­cus­sion of the col­lec­tion of the Qur’aan.[]
  23. 402 Ubay­daat, p. 162.[]
  24. 403 The Ara­bic is ilhaam, which is the type of inspi­ra­tion that is giv­en to pious peo­ple, and is not the wahy that is giv­en to the prophets. The moth­er of Moosaa recieved this type of inspi­ra­tion when she was com­mand­ed by Allaah to let Moosaa adrift in the riv­er. Refer to Chap­ter 3 for more details.[]
  25. 404 Actu­al­ly, the Prophet (PBUH) recit­ed the whole Qur’aan twice to Jibreel, and heard it from him twice. Some schol­ars held the view that these recita­tions of the Qur’aan occurred in dif­fer­ent ahruf. See Itr, pp. 263 – 73.[]
  26. 405 Ibn al-Jaza­ree, an-Nashr, v. 1, p. 31, with changes.[]
  27. 406 Anas ibn Maa­lik stat­ed, I could not count more that four­teen white hairs in the Prophet’s (PBUH) beard and hair.” Report­ed by at-Tir­mid­hee in his Shamaa’il, # 31.[]
  28. 407 al-Qaree, p. 71.[]
  29. 408 Although there is a strong dif­fer­ence of opin­ion over this. See al-Hamad, p.151, where he tries to prove that this knowl­edge did not exist until the Mus­lims invent­ed it.[]
  30. 409 al-Hamad, p. 140.[]
  31. 410 See Ch. 8, The Com­pi­la­tion of the Qur’aan”, for fur­ther details and exam­ples.[]
  32. 411 Ibn al-Jaza­ree, p. 31.[]
  33. 413 cf. Itr, pps. 216 – 228[]
  34. 414 Report­ed by al-Haakim, see as-Sahee­hah # 5870[]







3 responses to “An Intro­duc­tion to the Sci­ences of the Qur’an : The Ahruf of The Qur’aan”

  1. Shaikh Ahmed Avatar
    Shaikh Ahmed

    3. Change in word order. For exam­ple, in 2:159, wa qaatalu wa qutilu is changed to wa qutilu wa qaatalu.

    These words : wa qutilu wa qaatalu” does­n’t exist in this verse (Surah Baqarah, verse:159), can you please fol­low up ?

    1. Bismika Allahuma Team Avatar

      It is in verse 2:195

  2. Umm umar Avatar
    Umm umar

    Very ben­e­fi­cial. May Allah reward those who worked on it immensly.

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