The Sunnah of Qira’aat
Just as a woman adorns herself with jewellery, the Qur’an is adorned by its recitation. The Qur’an that began with the very command to “read” is now being recited by countless Muslims every second. This is not just a simple practice of recitation, but it is one of the Qur’anic sciences by itself, known as Qira’aat.
The study of Qira’aat revolves around the beautiful words of the revelation, in relation to the manner and method of pronunciation of such words as well as their implementation. It is an important part of Qur’anic science that prevents Muslims from making mistakes when pronouncing and protects the Qur’an from distortion and alteration.
The qiraa’ah is a Sunnah that was transmitted directly from the Prophet ﷺ through oral and written form, and the different wordings and pronunciations were part of the revelation. These qira’aat were transmitted to the sahabah, and later on, to the scholars through a form of transmission known as “mutawatir”. This term is used to indicate that a certain narration or, in this case, way of reciting, is linked directly to the Prophet ﷺ. Mutawatir is one of the conditions mandated by the scholars to make a qiraa’ah acceptable, in addition to the condition that it agrees with the principles of Arabic and that it agrees with the Uthmani Mus’haf.
The qira’aat received by the scholars were varied, giving rise to a variety of recitation styles based upon their teachers. It is these recitations that are now repeated in every household.
Qurra’ of the Past
A reciter of the Qur’an is known as qaree (Plural: qurra’). The qira’aat that we know today are named under the qurra’ of the Prophet’s companions (may Allah be pleased with them), the generation of tabi’oon and taba’a tabi’oon (may Allah have mercy on them). The exceptional students of the tabi’oon preserved and spread this knowledge, making it accessible for the later generations to follow.
According to the majority of scholars, there are ten acceptable types of qira’aat. They are:
- Naafi‘ al-Madani: He is Naafi ibn Abdur Rahman from Madinah. He was one major scholar of Qira’aat of his time. He even became the chief qaree of Madinah. Two of his outstanding students who preserved his qiraa’ah were Qaloon and Warsh. Apart from them, Imam Malik was also his qiraa’ah student.
- Ibn Katheer al-Maki: He is Abd Allah ibn Katheer from Makkah. He was from the generation of the tabi’oon. It is known that Imam Shaafi’ee followed his qiraa’ah. The two excellent qurra’ who narrated his qiraa’ah were Al-Buzzi and Qunbul.
- Abu Amr al-Basri: He is Zabaan ibn al-‘Alaa ibn Ammar al-Basree, born in Makkah and grown up in Basra. He studied under many tabi’oon. His recitation was preserved by Al-Dawri and As-Soosi.
- Ibn Aamir ash-Shami’: He is Abdullah ibn Aamir al-Yahsabee. He studied under the companions Abu Darda and al-Mugheerah ibn Abee Shihaab (may Allah be pleased with them). He lived in Damascus and also became the chief judge of Damascus. His qiraa’ah was narrated by Hishaam and Ibn Zhakwaan.
- Aasim al-Koofi: He is Aasim ibn Abee Najood from Kufah. He was the most knowledgeable person in recitation during his time. He also became the Imam of the qurra’ in Kufah. Imam Abu Haneefah learnt qiraa’ah under him. His two brilliant students who preserved his qiraa’ah were Shu’bah and Hafs.
- Hamzah al-Koofi: He is Hamzah ibn Habeeb from Kufah. He was one of the tabi’oon who learnt from great scholars. The qurra’ who preserved his qiraa’ah were Khalaf and Khallad.
- Al-Kisaa’ee Al-Koofi: He is Ali ibn Hamzah ibn Abdullah from Kufah. He was one of the classical scholars in this field, having excelled in the Qur’anic sciences and its recitation. His two excellent students who narrated his qiraa’ah were Abu al-Harith and ad-Dawri.
- Abu Jafar al-Madani – He is Yazeed ibn al-Qa’qa’ al-Makhzoomee from Madinah. He was also one of the tabi’oon who learnt from Abdullah bin Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) and others. His two notable students who preserved his qiraa’ah were Eesa ibn Wardan and Jimaaz.
- Yaqoob al-Basri: He is Yaqoob ibn Ishaaq al-Hadhramee from Basra. He became the Imam of qurra’ in Basra. His noteworthy students were Ruways and Rooh.
- Khalaf: He is Khalaf ibn Hishaam al-Bazaar from Baghdad, usually known as Khalaf al-Aashir (The Tenth Khalaf). He was also one of the students of Hamzah, but he later adopted a different qiraa’ah of his own. His two outstanding students were Ishaaq and Idrees.
These are the ten renowned types of recitation that fulfil the conditions of qira’aat and are preserved to this day by the efforts of their students. These students who preserved their recitation are called raawis (narrators), and this narration is known as riwayah. So, when a qiraa’ah is described, for example, where Qaree Aasim recites through riwayah of Hafs, it will be mentioned as “Hafs an Aasim”.
Differences Between Qira’aat
Among the ten recitations, Hafs an Aasim is followed by the majority, followed by Warsh an Naafi’, Qaloon an Naafi’, ad Dawri an Abu Amr and Ibn Aamir.
Due to the practice of these different qira’aat, without a doubt, there will be some distinction in each style’s pronunciation. And this pronunciation also influences the meaning of the words. However, these minor changes are parallel in nature.
For example, in verse four of Surah al-Fatiha, the verse is pronounced as “Maaliki yawm ad-deen” by Aasim and al-Kisaa’ee, where Maalik is translated to “Master” or “Owner”. However, Naafi, Abu Amr, Ibn Katheer, Ibn Aamir, and Hamzah pronounce the verse as “Maliki yawm ad-deen”, and here, Malik means “King” or “Sovereign”. These two words come from the Asma al-Husna, and the pronunciations make the meanings synonymous.
The differences in qira’aat give the words an in-depth and absolute meaning to the verses. In another example from Surah al-Baqarah, verse 259 is read as “Kayfa nunshizuha…” by al-Kisaa’ee, Aasim, Ibn Aamir, and Hamzah, where “nunshizuha” means “to cause to rise”, referring to a donkey made to rise from death in front of his owner, whose story is mentioned in the chapter. As for Abu Amr, Naafi and Ibn Katheer, they pronounce the word as “nunshiruha”, meaning “to resurrect”. Both the words are connected, which gives the verse a comprehensive understanding of the story.
The study of qira’aat demonstrates the promise of Allah ﷻ in action, the promise of preserving the Qur’an that was revealed over 1400 years ago. We can see how He revealed it, how it was taught to the sahabah, how it was passed on from the generation of scholars to this day and age in perfect condition, without even the slightest bit of error – such is the beauty of the Qur’an!
Allah ﷻ preserved this revelation in such a manner that no human can ever raise a question about its authenticity. Certainly, this is the ultimate source of guidance for mankind.
By learning this Qur’anic science, we must understand the significance of Qur’an and the role it plays in our lives. It is not a simple reading that can be done a few times, but it requires focus and dedication – from reciting it, to understanding and implementing it. This is the solution for every problem in our lives, and we constantly rely on its assistance.
Written by: Musmirah
Edited by: The Editorial Team
© The Islamic Reflections Blog
- Ulum al-Qur’an by Ahmad Von Denffer
- An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an by Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi
- Ma’ariful Qur’an by Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi’
- The History of Quranic Text by M.M.Al-Azami