Critical Edition of the Qur’an
Among common muslims, the text
and the reading of the Qur’an exist today are believed as the complete and
authentic recordings of Mohammad revelations codified by Zayd ibn Thabit under
the authority of Caliph ‘Utsman ibn ‘Affan. The statement of the Qur’an in
15:9, innâ nahnu nazzalnâ dhikra wa innâ lahu lahâfizûn, is perceived as
divine guarantee of the purity and originality of the above codex from various
changes and deviations. Based on this verse, most of the Moslems also consider
that its diacritical points (i’jâm) and vocalization signs (shakl)
as sacred and fully protected by God till the end of the World.
However, if one is deeply
acquainted with the historical journey of the Qur’an, the reality is not that
simple. The phenomenon of early history of the Qur’an shows exactly that
varieties of text traditions and variant readings of the sacred book have
existed from the beginning of Islam,
which later became major reason for the attempt to standardize it by ‘Uthman
for the purpose of maintaining the socio-political cohesion of muslims.
Thus, the standardization of the text of the Qur’an is mainly based on the
The ‘Uthmanic text was originally
written in scriptio defectiva, in contras to scriptio plena in
which it is now written. In the earliest examples of this text only consonants
are written, and these are not adequately distinguished from one another, since
one script symbol may sometimes indicate either of two or more consonants—e.g. the symbol used
to indicate the consonants b, t, th, n, and y. That is why
improvements were made to the orthographical text of the Qur’an. The textual
form or the orthography (rasm) of the Qur’an in our posession now, as
shown in a number of ‘Uthmanic manuscripts, in fact has undergone a series of
improvements, through some experimental changes, in accordance with the
development of Arabic orthography which culminated towards the end of 9th
century/3rd century of islamic calendar. In
spite of the efforts to improve the writing of the Qur’anic text, a few
orthographical inconsistencies are still visible within the texts, resulting
from “reluctant” introduction of scriptio plena in the writing of textus receptus.
The readings (qirâ’a pl. qirâ’ât)
of the Qur’anic text being used today are two of the fourteen versions of the seven
reading systems (al-qirâ’ât al-sab’)
that have been sanctioned by Islamic orthodoxy in 10th century/4th
century of the Hijra.
Each of the seven canonical readings of the ‘Uthmanic text, compiled by Ibn
Mujahid in 10th century/4th century of Islam,
has two versions (riwâya, pl. riwâyât). And the reading used for
the Qur’anic texts today is the reading of ‘Aþim transmitted by Hafþ (hafþ ‘an Aþim) and the reading of Nafi’
transmitted by Warsh (Warsh ‘an Nafi’). The first reading system is used
in the Egyptian standard edition of the Qur’an (1923/1342H), which is the
official guide for the majority of Muslims all over the world. While the second
system is used by a small number of muslims in West and North-West Africa, and
in Yemen, especially among the Zaydiyah sect.
The fourteen versions of the qirâ’ât
al-sab’ are perceived as the authentic readings of the Qur’an originated
from the Prophet. However,
the doctrine which had been rigidly formulated and developed by the Islamic
orthodoxy has prohibited the combining of those versions in order to create a
better reading of the text, considered from various perspectives. Ibn Mujahid,
the most influential authority in this subject, did not allow the combining of
various readings from different origins, and demanded that every reading system
should be given or recited in its original form without any change. As
a matter of fact, those reading systems were compiled by the authoritative
readers (qurrâ’) by incorporating and selecting—technically called
ikhtiyâr (“selection”)—from various readings in hand based on majority
principle (ijmâ’). Nafi’, for instance, explicitly clarified to have
read the Qur’an in front of seventy tâbi’ûn (followers of the first
generation of Islam), and took the agreed ones—by two among them at
minimum—while left out the deviated readings, until the completion of his reading
system. Along with this, al-Kisa’i narrated to have said that he had selected
and incorporated from the reading of Hamza and others into a moderate (mutawassita)
reading that did not deviate from the path of the previous authorities (imâm) of Qur’anic readings.
Therefore, there is no solid
ground to refuse any attempt to re-edit the critical edition of the Qur’an. One
of the objections toward this Qur’anic edition which will explore the seven
readings—and probably also involving non-‘Uthmanic variants—is that it will
disturb the stability of the text and the reading which have been fixed for
centuries. However, as shown above, one only need to look into the manuscripts
and early history of the Qur’an to find that the Qur’anic texts have undergone
various orthographical revisions which in their nature were experimental, and
the fact that major readers have also applied the method of ikhtiyâr (selection)
in developing their reading system.
Based on the above
considerations, this critical edition of the Qur’an will be oriented toward
achieving a better orthographical form of Qur’anic text and easy to read. While
the texts themselves will be recited in a reading format which comes from
“selected” readings of Muslims’ various historical qirâ’ât tradition heritage. Many inconsistencies in
the orthography of the texts—e.g. the usage of tâ’ mabsûta as substitute
for tâ’ marbûtah in the word rahma, ni’ma, etc; the substitute of
alif with waw in word shalâh, zakâh, etc; the writing of mimmâ
or allâ that at times being written separately and at other times
combined, and many other examples
— clearly showed the attempt to accomodate many development of oral traditions
and Qur’anic writings that existed among muslims at that time. These
inconsistencies need to be revised.
At this point, it should be
agreed that the writing system is a cultural product of human beings that
undergo developments along with human progress. Script or written words, as Abu
Bakr al-Baqillani said, are merely symbols in serving its purpose as signs,
epitomes and formulas used to make the reading easier.
Since the aim of writing the Qur’an is to ease the appropriate reading,
therefore revision of the orthographical texts of the Qur’an ought to serve the
Besides the points mentioned
above, explorations and investigations of variant readings to produce a better
reading of the Qur’an become significant for other reasons: First, the two
readings being used today, sometimes are not compatible with ‘Uthmanic textus
receptus. The consonantal text of âtâni or âtânî-llâh in
27:36, for instance, were read by Nafi’ and Hafs ‘an ‘Asim as âtâniya-llâh.
Second, in several cases, the two readings are problematic from the linguistic
point of view. The linguist experts, for instance, by acclamation have pointed
out the error Nafi’ made when reciting the word nabîyîna in 2:58 as nabî’îna,
or the word al-barîyah in 98:6 as al-barî’ah, or ‘asaytum
in 2:246 as ‘asîtum.
While the reading of Hafs from ‘Asim for 20:63, hadzâni, was critiziced
by ‘Aisyah in a transmission,
that it should be recited hadzayni, as in the reading of Abu ‘Amr and
Nafi’. Third, in many cases, the two official readings show biases—for example
gender bias, as shown by Nasaruddin Umar in his book, Gender Equality
Argument: Qur’anic Perspective.
Besides, both are sometimes inconsistent with direct context of the Qur’an and
human rational logic. So, the reading nushran in 7:57, which were
recited by Ibn ‘Amr and Ibn Kathir, for example, is more appropriate within
context and logic compared to the reading bushran in the reading of Hafs
‘an ‘Asim. In addition, the reading of ibil (she-camel) in 88:17
is incoherent within the context of 88:17-20. While the non-‘Uthmanic reading, ibill
(clouds that put forth rain) for 88:17, is more suitable within its context.
The selection of variant reading
traditions for the critical edition of the Qur’an, not only relies on classical
principles such as the compatibility of readings with the texts and linguistic
norms, but also relies on close attention toward direct context of reading
variant within its inserted place in the Qur’an. Besides considering the
implication of interpreted meaning and indicated law in a particular selected
reading, the selection process also need to take into account the universal
values believed by human beings as truths. In other words, the procedure of irtijâl—i.e
the procedure to synchronyze a reading with linguistic norms and human
reason—will also be adopted.
Wa-llâhu a’lam bi-l-þawâb.
- ·· Lecturer of Qur’anic Studies at
Faculty of Islamic Law, State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) Alauddin,
 There were some written
collection of the Qur’an (masâhif ) which have special authority in
various great centres of the Islamic world before the Codification of ‘Uthman.
The mushaf of ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud was held in high regard in Kufa,
that of Ubayy ibn Ka’b in most parts of Syria, that of Abu Musa al-‘Ash’ari in
Basra, and that of Miqdad ibn al-Aswad among the people of Homs. There were
also some popular Hadith — transmitted by 21 companions of the Prophet
— which reported that the Prophet had been taught to recite the Qur’an
according to the seven ahrûf (s. harf which is properly
“letter”). On the seven ahrûf, see e.g. Jalal al-Din
al-Suyuti, al-Itqân fî ‘Ulûm al-Qur’ân, 2 vols., (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr,
nd.), vol. 1, pp. 46 f.; Bukhari, Sahîh, (various editions), Kitâb
Fadâ’il al-Qur’ân, bâb Unzila al-Qur’ân; Abu al-Qasim al-Musawi al-Khu’i, The
Prolegomena of the Qur’an, tr. Abdulaziz A. Sachedina, (New York: Oxford
Univ. Press, 1998), pp. 119-122; etc. A. Jeffery, based mainly on Kitâb
al-Masâhif of Ibn Abi Dawud, drawn up a scheme of 15 primary old codices
and 13 secondary ones, all of which reflects the
varieties of pre-Utsmani texts and readings. See his Materials for
the History of the Text of the Qur’an, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1937), p. 14.
 On the collection of the Qur’an
by Zayd ibn Thabit under the authority of ‘Uthman, see e.g. Bukhari, ibid.,
Kitâb Fadâ’il al-Qurân, bâb jam’ al-Qur’ân; Ibn Abi Dawud
al-Sijistani, Kitâb al-Masâhif, ed. A. Jeffery, (Egypt: al-Matba’a al-Rahmaniya,
1936), pp. 18 f.; T. Noeldeke, et.all., Geschichte des Qorans, 3 vols.,
(Leipzig: Dieterich’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1919-1938), vol. 2, pp. 47 ff.
 W. M. Watt, Bell’s Introduction
to the Qur’an, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 47 f.
 The seven reading systems were
that of Nafi’ of Medina (d. 785 ), Ibn Kathir of Mecca (d. 738), Ibn ‘Amir of
Damascus (d. 736), Abu ‘Amr of Basra (d. 770), ‘Asim of Kufa (d. 745/6), Hamza
of Kufa (d. 772), and al-Kisa’I of Kufa (d. 804). See e.g. Abu ‘Amru ‘Uthman
ibn Sa’id al-Dani, al-Taysîr fî al-qirâ’ât al-Sab’, ed. O. Pretzl,
(Istanbul: Matba’a al-Dawla, 1930), pp. 4 ff, etc.
 Some Sunni scholars, e.g. Abu
Sa’id Faraj ibn Lubb, have even gone so far as to assert that whoever maintains
that the seven readings of the Qur’an need not be reported by uninterrupted
transmission has commited an act of disbelief. See e.g. Muhammad ‘Abd al-Azim
al-Zarqani, Manâhil al-‘Irfân fî ‘Ulûm al-Qur’an, 2 vols., (Cairo: Dar
Ihya’ al-Kutub al-‘Arabiyya, 1943), vol. 1, p. 428. Conversely, al-Suyuti —
quoting statement made by Abu Bakr in his book, Intisâr — reported that
a number of jurists and theologians have maintained that small sections of the
Qur’an have been transmitted through a single naration. Al-Zarkashi also said
that the seven readings are uninterruptedly transmitted from the seven
authoritative reader. However, as for their being uninterruptedly transmitted
from the Prophet, there is reason for doubt in this. The chains of transmission
of the seven readings recorded in the qirâ’ât books, clearly explained
that they are of single authoities reporting successively from one another.
Such an opinion has been regarded as reprehensible by the Orthodoxy and they
have refused to accept it. See Suyuti, Itqân, vol. 1, sections 22-27,
pp. 80, 82.
 The general criteria used in
screening sound qur’anic readings are: (i) tawâtur, i.e. the reading
which has been transmitted by independent chains of authorities (asânîd)
on a scale sufficiently wide as to rule out the possibility of error; (ii)
complies with the ‘uthmanic textus receptus; and (iii) accords with
Arabic grammar. See e.g. Suyuti, ibid., pp. 77 ff.
 On the chain transmission of qirâ’ât
al-Sab’, see e.g. al-Dani, ibid., pp. 7 ff; Shams al-Din Abu ‘Abd
Allah al-Dhahabi, Ma’rifa al-Qurrâ’ al-Kibâr ‘alâ al-Tabaqât wa al-A’sâr,
2 vols., (Beirut: Mu’assasat al-Risala, 1984), vol. 1, pp. 85 ff.; Ibn
al-Nadim, Fihrist, ed. & tr. Bayard Dodge, 2 vols., (New York:
Columbia Univ. Press, 1970), vol. 1, pp. 63-67; etc.
 See e.g. Noeldeke, et.al., Geschichte,
vol. 3, pp. 137 ff., especially p. 143.
 Quoted in Noeldeke, et.al., ibid.,
pp. 139 f.
 See Noeldeke, et.al., ibid.,
pp. 27 ff., based mainly from Abu Amr al-Dani, al-Muqni’ fî Ma’rifa Marsûm
Masâhif Ahl al-Amsâr, (Kairo: al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyah, nd.).
 Quoted in Mana’ al-Qattan,
Mabâhith fî ‘Ulûm al-Qur’ân, (Manshurat al-‘Asr al-Hadith, nd.), p. 148.
 al-Dani, al-Muqni‘, bâb
3 fasl 1.
 See Noeldeke, et.al.,
Geschichte, vol. 3, p. 126.
 See Suyuti, Itqân, vol.
1, pp. 183 f.
 See Nasaruddin Umar, Argumen
Kesetaraan Gender: Perspektif al-Qur’an, (Jakarta: Paramadina,1999), pp.
 For this reading, see
al-Qurtubi, Al-Jami’ li Ahkâm al-Qur’ân, (CD Rom Edition), surah 88:17.
See also Jeffery, Materials, pp. 109, 177, for the reading of Ibn
Mas’ud, ‘Aisha and ‘Ubayy ibn Ka’b.