|Qur'anic Orthography: The Written Representation Of The Recited Text Of The Qur'an|
|Written by mquran.org|
|Saturday, 18 November 2006|
Thus demanded Hudhayfa bin al-Yaân of `Uthân, the third Caliph, on returning from battles in Azerbaijan (25/645). Hudhayfa had become perturbed when he saw Muslim soldiers from different parts of Syria and Iraq meeting together and differing in their readings of the Qur'ān, each considering his reading to be the correct one. Up to then the only full official written copy which was made under Abū Bakr (d.13/634) had remained unpublished, kept first with Abū Bakr, then with `Umar, and after his death with his daughter Hafsa, a widow of the Prophet. Responding to the urgent demand for help, `Uthân sent word to Hafsa, asking for the copy in her possession to be sent to him so that a number of copies could be made of it, to be publicised and followed as the only authorised Qur'ān in the different parts of the Muslim world. This prevented the possibility of different versions evolving in time, as Hudhayfa had feared, when he urged `Uthân to guard against it.
In the `Uthânic copies, the Qur'ān was written in a particular rasm (orthography) which became known as al-rasm al-`Uthânī (the `Uthânic way of writing the text of the Qur'ān) also referred to as rasm al-mushaf. As the copies made at his orders and distributed to various parts of the Muslim world were meant to be authoritative, it is no wonder that their rasm assumed authority as the correct way of writing the Qur'ān. Arabic orthography at the time was not yet developed in the way we have known for centuries, particularly in two important areas. There was no distinction between letters of the alphabet of similar shape and there were no vowel marks. This may now give the impression that such a system must have given rise to great confusion in reading. This was not actually the case because the morphological patterns of words in Arabic enable readers to read even very unfamiliar material without the short vowels being marked. More important, however, as far as the Qur'ān was concerned, was the fact that learning and reading relied above all on oral transmission. In the Islamic tradition, writing remained a secondary aid; nevertheless, to ensure correct reading of the written texts of the Qur'ān, particularly for those coming after the first generation of Muslims, steps were taken gradually to improve the orthography. This started with the two above mentioned areas by introducing dots to indicate different vowels and nūnātion and these were put in different coloured ink from that of the text. There were also dots to distinguish between consonants of similar shape. This work was carried out chiefly by three men: Abū-l-Aswad al-Du'alī (d. 69 / 688), Nasr Ibn `Asim (d. 89 / 707) and Yahyā Ibn Ya`mur (d.129 /746). Understandably there was some opposition at first to adding anything to the way the Qur'ān was written. Ibn `Umar (73/692) disliked the dotting; others welcomed it, clearly because it was, in fact, doing no more than ensuring proper reading of the Qur'ān as received from the Prophet, and this view was accepted by the majority of Muslims throughout the different parts of the Muslims world, from the time of the tābi`ūn. The people of Madinah were reported to have used red dots for vowels - tanwīn, tashdīd, takhfīf, sukūn, wasl and madd and yellow dots for the hamzas in particular. Naqt (placing dots on words in the mushaf), became a separate subject of study with many books written on it.
I. Deletion (hadhf)
This involves deletion of an alif or yā' or wāw or lām.
It should be noted here that normal orthography has retained the Qur'ānic rasm in many of these cases as in the demonstratives, and that Qur'ānic rasm, in some cases, caters for more than one qirā'a as in which could be read as khilāfa or khalfa.
Avoiding repetition of the same shape is clearly an important factor in the rule of deletion.
This is also added in normal orthography to distinguish the plural from the singular;
Some Kufan scholars used to add this in normal orthography.
It should be noted that apart from the first 3 words here, in the examples given for the addition of alif, a hamza is adjacent to the alif which suggests that the addition has to do with the pronunciation of hamza. Al-Dānī suggests that alif is added to hamza to strengthen it.
This is also added in normal orthography. Again, a hamza and damma are adjacent. A variant pronunciation and a desire to avoid confusion of some words of similar shapes account for the addition.
It has been observed that alif, wāw and yā are involved in the rules of addition and deletion and will also be involved with the rule of hamza. This should not be surprising in view of the fact that in grammar the way they behave is responsible for such classes of verb as the hollow, the weak lām and the hamzated.
Hamza is peculiar in Arabic in many respects. A glottal stop as it is, it is deemed more difficult to pronounce than other consonants. Accordingly it takes one of four forms: distinctly pronounced, tahqīq; lightened, talyīn; changed, ibdāl; or deleted altogether, hadhf. These different ways are observed in qirā'āt and the various Arab dialects. Hamzated verbs are also treated in a separate section in grammar. It is no wonder that it affects the pronunciation and orthography of adjacent letters in the various sections dealt with so far. In the writing of the hamza itself, Qur'ānic and normal orthographies are similar in many ways. In some aspects, however, Qur'ānic rasm differs as in the following cases:
V. Joining And Separating
There are exceptions with some of these words fully suveyed in the Qur'ān and detailed in books and chapters on rasm; but some important factors have to be borne in mind in this connection. It should first be observed that even in normal orthography there are, in some cases, more than one opinion. It is also observed that in the words there is a nūn with sukūn; when added to many of the above words this incurs assimilation which strengthens the case for joining. The normal practice of joining, however, is sometimes set aside for such considerations as similarity to a case of separation in the same verse showing contrast in meaning. Thus the joining of is set aside in (24:43). is replaced by in four places in the Qur'ān as in (41:40).
VI. Variant Canonical Readings
* * *
A Fine Example
The application of the above rules of rasm, is best exemplified in an edition of the Qur'ān which maintains the tradition more than any other and now has more widespread circulation than any other edition. This is the Egyptian edition, printed originally in 1337/ 1918. Far more than any other editions, it has been adopted in the most important centres of publishing the Qur'ān in the Middle East: Egypt, Saudi Arabia (especially the King Fahd Complex for printing the Qur'ān in Madina), Beirut and Turkey. This particular edition is, moreover, the one normally used as a base for translation of the Qur'ān into English and is the one whose orthography I will discuss below.
The first section of the Appendix cites in detail the authorities relied upon in the writing of the mushaf. It was written, we are told at the beginning, according to the reading of Hafs as taken from `Asim, as from Ibn Habīb, as from the Companions `Uthân, `Alī, Zayd ibn Thābit and Ubayy as received from the Prophet.
N.B. This edition uses one further sign, which is not listed here, that is, placing a above the end of a word to indicate saktah (hiatus or slight interruption of reading), to separate two words, such as "and has not made in it [the Qur'ān] any crookedness straight, to give warning...' ( 18:1-2). Without the hiatus, the meaning would be distorted.
The mandatory pause comes after who hear in Arabic. This is followed by wa, a conjunction which generally means and; it retains the same form even in contexts where it means as for. Without the mandatory stop, a reader may read the statement as: ... only those can accept who hear and the dead... which would corrupt the sense.
It is prohibited to pause at 'goodly' which would leave the sentence unfinished and impair the sense.
The optional pause comes after truth.
It is preferable to pause after a few.
can be read, pausing to make the meaning either as:
If you pause at both places, the material following the first pause will read in it, which would disrupt the sense.
The underlying principle in all these is whether the sense has reached final completion or is not complete; has reached an acceptable stage of completion; or would be more fully expressed if carried into a further stage.
* * *
Tradition or Change
Such people were led to this view in Ibn Khaldūn's opinion by a desire to put the Companions above lack of knowledge in writing when in fact this was a craft, the knowledge of which is relative and not necessarily indicative of innate perfection or otherwise. The Arabs at the time of writing the mushāf were still closer to the Bedouin state which did not perfect crafts, and this, in Ibn Khaldūn's opinion, appeared in their writing of the mushāf which was written by a number of people whose knowledge of writing was not excellent and they followed various orthographies. It is understandable that Ibn Khaldūn should have been so incensed by the imaginary and far-fetched explanation of al-Marākishī; what he said about the early stage of writing may also have some justification but, on the other hand, he clearly did not pay regard to considerations of phonetics and qirā'āt, and how they affect various aspects of rasm . For instance in the very examples he quotes (and we have seen many other instances earlier), he overlooks the fact that additional letters come only after a hamza; the real explanation here has to be sought there, and in the desire of orthographers to ensure specific pronunciation as explained above, not for esoteric reasons as argued by al-Marākishī nor simply on the ground of inconsistency and lack of mastry of craftsmanship on the part of early scribes, as argued by Ibn Khaldūn. His own views came to be dismissed out of hand by a modern authority on Qur'ānic rasm on the ground that he was a loner and not a mujtahid in the field. 
Traditionalist further argue that rules of ordinary orthography are themselves open to differences and changes and Qur'ānic rasm should not be made to follow them. Besides, it is not necessary in ordinary orthography that the writing of words should coincide with the pronunciation, thus we have words like to give but a few examples of 'irregular' writing, where the orthography does not reflect the pronunciation and this is perfectly accepted by the non-traditionalists. Nor is this peculiar to Arabic: it is far more extensive and accepted in English and French for instance. And, whereas the pronunciation of such irregular words is not indicated by any signs in modern Arabic, all cases of additions, deletions or substitution of letters in the Qur'ānic rasm are indicated by signs of istilahāt al-dabt to guide the reader to their correct pronunciation. It should also be remembered that the `Uthânic rasm was one source of ordinary orthography and came to differ from it only in certain aspects, all of which have been identified in detail, including every single exception from the rules, in a way not surprising from scholars of the Qur'ān who counted even the occurrence of every single letter of the alphabet in the entire text. They also supplied signs to guide the reader to pronounce every word, making the rasm a uniquely precise system of representation. This has always been supported by a tradition and an educational system, that considers reception by word of mouth is - as it was at the time of the Prophet - the primary way of teaching and learning the Qur'ān. In any case, in addition to istilahāt al-dabt and the guide printed in the Appendix of the mushaf, some mushafs are now printed with a further guide at the foot margin of every page containing the Qur'ānic and the modern orthographic ways of writing words where the two systems differ; but Muslims have evidently insisted that the text of the Qur'ān itself should remain written in the `Uthânic rasm. They apparently consider that this rasm has been an important way of ensuring that successive generations of Muslims have been faithful to the original writing and reading of the Qur'ān, ever since Hudhayfa Ibn al-Yaân urged `Uthân: Quick! Help the Muslims before they differ about the text of the Qur'ān as the Christians and Jews differed about their scriptures.
 Bukhāri: Sahīh, fada'il al-Qur'ān, 3.
 Al-Dānī, Abū `Amr, Al-Muqni` fimarsūm wa-masāhif ahl al-amsār ma` kitāb al-Naqt, Damascus, 1983, pp. 124-5.
 Al-Dānī, op. cit., p. 125-6.
 Such as those by Abū Hātim al-Sijistānī (248/826) and Al-Dānī (444/1502).
 Suyūtī, Itqān, I, Beirut, 199?, p. 484.
 Suyūtī, Itqān, II, p. 348-56.
 Wālī, H., Kitāb al-Imlā', Beirut, 1985, p. 41.
 Suyūtī, Itqān, II, Beirut, 1987, p. 470.
 ibid., p. 169.
 Dār al-Fikr, Damascus, 1983.
 Wālī, H., ibid, p. 101.
* Irqam, 11, pp. 471-82.
 op. cit., p. 140.
 ibid., p. 108-9.
 Suyūtī, Itqān, n p. 475.
 Wālī, op. cit., p. 47.
 But it does somtimes carry weight in normal orthography. See Wālī, op. cit., p. 78.
 Wālī, op. cit., p. 92.
 Al-Dānī, op. cit., p. 79.
 For details see Suyūtī, Itqān, II, p. 477.
 Note that in modern Arabic tā' marbūtā is pronounced and writen an ordinary ta' in names like: ; in languages like Turkish and Urdu, they say salat and zakat.
 Wālī, op. cit., p. 143-151.
 For further examples see al-Dānī, op. cit., pp. 83-92.
 See al-Dānī, op. cit., p. 106 and Suyūtī, II, p. 497.
 See H. Wālī, op. cit., p. 173-5.
 op. cit., p. 130.
 In some earlier and current editions, a mark is added, showing the end of ten verses to be read in prayers.
 See Appendix pp. p- of copies printed - 1405/1984. The mushaf printed in the King Fahd Complex is called Mushaf al-Madīna al-nabawiyya.
 Arberry's translation is an exception.
 H. S. `Uthân, Haqq al-Tilāwa, Jordan, 1901/1971, p. l4.
 See istilahāt al-dabt, Egyptian Mushāf, Appendix and Al-Dānī, op. cit., pp. 123-143.
 See `Abd al-Rahân Ibn al-Jawzī, Funūn al-afnān fī `Ulūm al-Qur'ān, Baghdad, 1988, pp. 104-106.
 He still has followers now. See S. al-Sālih, Mabāhith fī `Ulūm al-Qur'ān, Beirut, 19??, pp. 276-7.
 The Muqaddima, Dār al-Sha`b, Cairo, n.d.; pp. 377-8.
 Hifni Nāsifī: Al-Muqtataf, vol. 83, Cairo, 1933, p. 206.
 See S. al-Sālih, ibid., pp. 287-9; L. al-Sa`īd, Al-Jam` al-sauti li'l-Qur'ān al-Karīm, Cairo, 196?, pp. 291-2.
 al-Sa`īd,, ibid., p. 292.
 Wālī, op. cit., p. 94.
 See Wālī, op. cit. pp. 147, 157-8 and passim.
 See L. al-Sa`īd, ibid, pp. 297-300.
 H. Nāsifī,op. cit.,p.206.
 al-Sa`īd, ibid, pp. 304-6.
 See `Abd al-Rahân Ibn al-Jawzī, op. cit., pp. 104-6.
M A S Abdel Haleem
Islamic Quarterly, 19??, pp. 171-192
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