The topics of Ahruf and Qira’at have caused some confusion for many Muslims or individuals who are studying the Quran. When individuals first hear about these topics they have the false impression that there are multiple variations of the Quran, as if the variations are vastly different than one another. This is not the case, but let’s first see the meaning of these words to better understand this topic.
Very simply, Qiraʼat means recitation. This word comes from the same root as the word Quran which also means recitation. Ahruf, in the Quran, means distortion (see 2:75, 4:46, 5:13, 5:41). But in the context that most people use it in the context of the Ahruf of the Quran it means the various forms of spelling or meanings for certain words. The reason Ahruf means distortion is because any spelling or meaning that deviates from the original Quran by definition is a distortion.
[2:75] Do you expect them to believe as you do, when some of them used to hear the word of GOD, then distort it, with full understanding thereof, and deliberately?
(٧٥) أَفَتَطْمَعُونَ أَنْ يُؤْمِنُوا لَكُمْ وَقَدْ كَانَ فَرِيقٌ مِنْهُمْ يَسْمَعُونَ كَلَامَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُحَرِّفُونَهُ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا عَقَلُوهُ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
[4:46] Among those who are Jewish, some distort the words beyond the truth, and they say, “We hear, but we disobey,” and “Your words are falling on deaf ears,” and “Raa’ena* (be our shepherd),” as they twist their tongues to mock the religion. Had they said, “We hear, and we obey,” and “We hear you,” and “Unzurna (watch over us),” it would have been better for them, and more righteous. Instead, they have incurred condemnation from GOD due to their disbelief. Consequently, the majority of them cannot believe.
مِنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُوا يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَمِعْنَا وَعَصَيْنَا وَاسْمَعْ غَيْرَ مُسْمَعٍ وَرَاعِنَا لَيًّا بِأَلْسِنَتِهِمْ وَطَعْنًا فِي الدِّينِ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا وَاسْمَعْ وَانْظُرْنَا لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُمْ وَأَقْوَمَ وَلَٰكِنْ لَعَنَهُمُ اللَّهُ بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
[5:13] It was a consequence of their violating the covenant that we condemned them, and we caused their hearts to become hardened. Consequently, they took the words out of context, and disregarded some of the commandments given to them. You will continue to witness betrayal from them, excepting a few of them. You shall pardon them, and disregard them. GOD loves those who are benevolent.
فَبِمَا نَقْضِهِمْ مِيثَاقَهُمْ لَعَنَّاهُمْ وَجَعَلْنَا قُلُوبَهُمْ قَاسِيَةً يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ وَنَسُوا حَظًّا مِمَّا ذُكِّرُوا بِهِ وَلَا تَزَالُ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَىٰ خَائِنَةٍ مِنْهُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِنْهُمْ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
[5:41] O you messenger, do not be saddened by those who hasten to disbelieve among those who say, “We believe,” with their mouths, while their hearts do not believe. Among the Jews, some listened to lies. They listened to people who never met you, and who distorted the words out of context, then said, “If you are given this, accept it, but if you are given anything different, beware.” Whomever GOD wills to divert, you can do nothing to help him against GOD. GOD does not wish to cleanse their hearts. They have incurred humiliation in this world, and in the Hereafter, they will suffer a terrible retribution.
يَاأَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ لَا يَحْزُنْكَ الَّذِينَ يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْكُفْرِ مِنَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا آمَنَّا بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَلَمْ تُؤْمِنْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُوا سَمَّاعُونَ لِلْكَذِبِ سَمَّاعُونَ لِقَوْمٍ آخَرِينَ لَمْ يَأْتُوكَ يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَوَاضِعِهِ يَقُولُونَ إِنْ أُوتِيتُمْ هَٰذَا فَخُذُوهُ وَإِنْ لَمْ تُؤْتَوْهُ فَاحْذَرُوا وَمَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ فِتْنَتَهُ فَلَنْ تَمْلِكَ لَهُ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَنْ يُطَهِّرَ قُلُوبَهُمْ لَهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا خِزْيٌ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
Correctly there is only one form of the Quran, but the recitation can be done in any number of dialects. For comparison imagine reading the translation of the Quran in American English, British English, or Australian English. In addition to it sounding different (qiraa’t) there will also be some variations in the spelling and pronunciation (ahruf). Take for example the American English spelling for the word color, compared to the British spelling of the word colour. The two words sound the same, but are spelled differently based on the different dialect of English that is being used. Or take the example of the pronunciation of the word tomato which is spelled the same in the different English dialects, but pronounced as “tomahto” in British pronunciation and “tomayto” American English.
Additionally, in some edge cases a word in one dialect will have a different understanding in another dialect. So for instance, in American English the first floor of a building is the ground floor, while in the UK this expression means the floor above the ground floor.
In the case of the Quran, an example of this kind of variation between meaning and pronunciation can be seen in the fourth verse of the first Sura in the Quran. The correct form should be:
[1:4] Master of the Day of Judgment.
(٤) مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ
māliki yawmi l-dīni
But in some different qira’at of the Quran this verse is stated as:
[1:4] King of the Day of Judgment.
(٤) مُالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ
muliki yawmi l-dīni
That said God provided us a mechanism to validate which spelling and format of the Quran is the correct version via the mathematical miracle of the Quran. The mathematical structure of the Quran confirms that the Hafs spelling and recitation we have today, for the most part, is the correct form we should be using for the Quran. The mathematical miracle of the Quran also showed some minor variations that need to be corrected in some of the Hafs printings as well, but for the most part this is the form that is consistent with the mathematical miracle of the Quran and the mathematical miracle of the Quran validates every letter, word, verse of the Quran.
- Sura 68:1 ن should be نون
- Some Hafs printings spell اللَّيْلِ (l-layl), with three lams, as opposed to the correct way with two lams الَّيْلِ
- Some Hafs printings spell اللَّاتِي (l-laty) with two lams as opposed to the correct way with one lam الّٰتِیۡۤ
- Some Hafs printings spell the word بَسْطَةً “bastatan” with a “ص / saad,” instead of “س / seen.”
- Verses 9:128-129 are not part of the original Quran. (see details here)
To learn more about how God preserved the authenticity of the Quran via the mathematical miracle see the following article.