First you should know that the Quran has been transmitted through the time by oral memorization and recitation on a hand of Scholars beginning with the Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) and not through a book (even today), and those who learned the Quran only through books are not accepted as teachers of a reading if their Reading isn't approved by a Sheikh/Scholar who has a direct Narration chain until our Messenger (peace be upon him)!
Allah () therefore says:
Rather, the Qur'an is distinct verses [preserved] within the breasts of those who have been given knowledge. And none reject Our verses except the wrongdoers. (29:49)
'Othman and the Rasm al-'Othmany of the Quran copies
Well the Quran text 'Othman (Uthman) (may Allah be pleased with him) has spread by sending 4 or 5 or...7 Quran copys to the different regions/cities (one of them was kept in Medina) ... one of them is known as the "Mushaf al Imam" (the copy he left for himself) while all are written with the "rasm al 'Othmany".
As "@Battle of Karbala" mentioned he also asked to burn older copy's and if there are differences in the language (dialect?) they should choose the language (dialect?) of Quraish (here's reference from Sahih al-Bukhari) ... and he wanted to keep one "universal" text as some of the Sahaba (may Allah be pleased with them) had their own Masahif with some differences in the text like additional words to explain a verse or a word in a verse.
The Mushaf al Imam and it's copies were intended to be a standard or a reference or guideline for the learner if the teacher is not near. At that time the Arabic letters didn't have any points/dots (i'jam إِعْجَام) or tashkil (تَشْكِيل) like shadda (شَدَّة) or nunation=tanwin (تَنْوِين) or hamza (همزة) -which now helps as to make differences in pronunciation -so the "fa, ف" and the "qaf, ق" for example looked the same (See also here). These differentiation came later (most during the Umayyad dynasty) due to the same reasons 'Othman wanted to fix a standard Quran (Here are fragments of Quran copies from the 3rd century a.H. in Hijazi letter style)!
To give you some examples how difficult this could be in Arabic:
- There is great and well known 'Alim (scholar) called جلال الدين السيوطي who's Father was born in Asyut اسيوط in Egypt and in Arabic some call him as-Suyuti and other's as-Sayuti and both readings are correct. By the way he wrote a great book about the Quranic sciences (Ulum al Quran) called al Itqan fi 'Ulum al Quran الإتقان في علوم القرآن. This is maybe the best book about this Science!
- Also the well known scholar Al-Ghazaly الْغَزَالِي is according to different sources called al-Ghazzaly (الْغَزّالي with shadda).
- Now lets go back to the Quran and see the Fatiha (Sura 1 in the Quran) the script in the Verse 4 is (ملك يوم الدين) "maliki yawmi dyn" but according to some sane riwaya it is read (مالك يوم الدين) "maaliki yawmi dyn" with an extended "alif (a)".
- You may find many other differences in different sane riwayat for example in Surat al Baqara (2:10) the rawys from Kufa read (يَكْذِبُونَ) the others (يُكَذِّبون) and in Verse (2:259) some read (ننشرها) others(ننشزها) and in Surat ash-Shams (91:15) (فلا يخاف عقباها) and (ولا يخاف عقباها) just to give you a very small overview. You can find lots of books and articles which show up these differences, explain them and their benefits.
- And here's a hadith which shows a difference -AFAIK the qira'a our Messenger (peace be upon him) used according this statement is only equal to the qira'a of Al-Kissaiy (among the 7 qira'at)!
Finally here some examples of qira-at which are not accepted according to the rules (which i will explain later)
in Surat an-Nur (24:15) you find (إذ تلقونه بألسنتكم) it is narrated that Sufyan (a-Thawri?) said that his mother learned from her father a reading from ibn Masu'd (إذ تثقفونه بألسنتكم) with the same meaning.
And Again ibn Masu'd read (101:5) (كالعهن المنفوش) in some riwaya (كالصوف المنفوش) with the same meaning!
As a clear example it is narrated (in Tafssir al Qurtubi) that ibn Masu'd was teaching a man to read (44:43-44) ( إن شجرة الزقوم43 طعام الأثيم) but the man couldn't spell the word (الأثيم) (the sinner) right so he spelled it (اليتيم) (the orphan) then ibn Masu'd asked him can you say (طعام الفاجر) (the wicked's food) the man said yes. Ibn Masu'd told him to read it this way (as this was the nearest to the original meaning)!
And so did the other Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) before the copies were sent out to the cities. By the Way ibn Mas'ud was from the tribe Hudhail هذيل therefore his language/dialect is hudhali. We still can find many words in the Quran which originally are in dialects different then Quraish!
Maybe one should also mention the so called explicative quira-at, for example the reading of "حَافِظُوا عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ وَالصَّلَاةِ الْوُسْطَىٰ" with the addition "والصلاة الوسطى صلاة العصر" or "وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا " with the explanation "فاقطعوا أيمانهما" which refers to the right hand (first)!
The scholarly view on these qur'an teaching by synonyms is that the prophet () has taught these sahabah () the verse in different languages and that they didn't teach it based on their own effort or ijtihad. As the qur'an as the word of Allah can't be called so if the words chosen are from a human, even if he did ijtihad or had knowledge in Arabic language. However a fwe scholars apparently regarded this as an ijtihad therefore imam al-Anbary said (as quoted by al-Qurtubi in his tafsir):
In the following I'm translating from Arabic language as these translations are of my own take them carefully!
قال أبو بكر الأنباري: وقد ترامى ببعض هؤلاء الزائغين إلى أن قال: من قرأ بحرف يوافق معنى حرف من القرآن فهو مصيب، إذا لم يخالف معنى ولم يأت بغير ما أراد الله وقصد له، واحتجوا بقول أنس هذا.
Abu Bakr al-Anbari said: Some of these deviants sought to say: Whoever recites a letter (harf) that matches the meaning of a letter (harf) from the Qur’an is correct, if it does not contradict the meaning and does not come with what Allah wanted and intended for him, and they argued with this saying of Anas (referring to a hadith of Anas about a recitation of verse 73:6).
وهو قول لا يعرج عليه ولا يلتفت إلى قائله، لأنه لو قرأ بألفاظ تخالف ألفاظ القرآن إذا
قاربت معانيها واشتملت على عامتها، لجاز أن يقرأ في موضع الحمد لله رب العالمين [الفاتحة: 2]: الشكر للباري ملك المخلوقين،
And it is a saying on which one does not turn to nor does one pay attention to those who made this claim, because if one reads with words that contradict the words of the Qur’an, if their meanings are close to them and include them on the whole, then it would be permissible to read in the place “Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds”: Thanks to the Creator, the King of creation.
ويتسع الأمر في هذا حتى يبطل لفظ جميع القرآن، ويكون التالي له مفتريا على الله عز وجل، كاذبا على رسوله صلى الله عليه وسلم ولا حجة لهم في قول ابن مسعود: نزل القرآن على سبعة أحرف، إنما هو كقول أحدكم: هلم وتعال وأقبل،
And the matter expands in this until the wording of the entire Qur’an is invalidated, and the one who follows it will be a slanderer against Allah Almighty, a liar against His Messenger, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him, and there is no evidence for them in the saying of Ibn Masoud: The Qur’an was revealed in seven letters, but it is like the saying of one of you: “Come synonym 1:هلم (hallumma), come تعال (ta'aala), and come أقبل (a'qbil).”
لأن هذا الحديث يوجب أن القراءات المأثورة المنقولة بالأسانيد الصحاح عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا اختلفت ألفاظها، واتفقت معانيها، كان ذلك فيها بمنزلة الخلاف في هلم، وتعال، وأقبل، فأما ما لم يقرأ به النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وأصحابه وتابعوهم رضي الله عنهم، فإنه من أورد حرفا منه في القرآن بهت ومال وخرج من مذهب الصواب.
Because this hadith necessitates that the known and accepted recitations (qira'aat) which were transmitted by authentic chains of transmission from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, if their words differ, and their meanings agree, then that would be the same as the disagreement (or differences) about come (hallumma), come (ta'aala), and come (a'qbil). For whoever mentions a letter of it in the Qur’an is slanderous and moneyed and departs from the correct doctrine.
قال أبو بكر: والحديث الذي جعلوه قاعدتهم في هذه الضلالة حديث لا يصح عن أحد من أهل العلم، لأنه مبني على رواية الأعمش عن أنس، فهو مقطوع ليس بمتصل فيؤخذ به، من قبل أن الأعمش رأى أنسا ولم يسمع منه.
Abu Bakr said: The hadith that they made as their basis for this misguidance is a hadith that is not authentic on the authority of any of the people of knowledge, because it is based on the narration of al-A’amash on the authority of Anas, so it is cut off and not connected, to be taken from it, from the perspective that al-A’amash saw Anas but did not hear from him.
Conditions for an accepted Reading
So any reading (Qira-a) or recitation which fulfills the following 3 conditions is considered to be sahih (sane):
the recitation has an authentic chain of narration in which the
chain of narrators was continuous until the Prophet Muhammed (peace
be upon him); the narrators were all known to be righteous and they
were all known to possess good memories. It was also required that
the recitation be conveyed by a large number of narrators on each
level of the chain of narration below the level of Sahabah (the
condition of Tawaatur).
the variations in recitations match known Arabic grammatical
the recitation to coincide with the script of one of the copies of
the Quran distributed during the era of Caliph 'Othmân is correct.
The 7 Readings and Readers (See also)
With time there were 7 well known Quran Recitator Imams some added 3 others so they speak about the 7 readings or 10 readings (all of them are sahih).
The highest level in correctness (=Tawaatur) according the conditions above:
- Is the Reading of Nafi (نافع) from Medina (His major rawis are Warsh and Qalun)
- then Ibn 'Amer (ابن عامر) from Shaam (His major rawis are Hisham and ibn Dhakwan)
- then Ibn Kathir (ابن كثير) from Mekka (His major rawis are al-Bazzi and Qunbul)
- then Abu 'Amr (أبو عمرو) from Basra (His major rawis are ad-Duri and as-Susi), Asim ibn Abi an-Nujud (عاصم) (His major rawis are Hafs and abu Bakr ibn 'Ayash also known as Sho'abah), Hamzah (حمزة) (His major rawis are Khalaf and Khallad) and Al-Kissaiy (الكسائي) (his major rawis are ad-Duri and abu al-Harith) from al-Kufa.
But as i said there have been much more then these known readings but ibn Mujahid (324a.H.) has counted these 7 readers in the 4th Islamic century to be the highest level. Other scholars have had different opinions and choices His teacher imam at-Tabari for example has chosen 8 qari'a and added Ya'aqub (see later) to the seven of ibn Mujahid and ibn Mihran ابن مهران who was the first to compile a book on the 10 qira'at!
Nowadays all Qira-at and Riwayat go back to a handful of sources that's why some (sahih) Qira-at are unknown now!
For example in Fath al Bary you find the following statement of Makky ibn abi Taleb (514 a.H.):
at the head of the 200 (a.H.) poeple of Basra read with the qira-a of
Abu Amr and Yacoob, in Kufa they read the qira-a of Hamza and Asim, in
a-Shaam they read the qira-a of Ibn 'Amer, in Mekka Ibn Kathir and in
Medina Nafi'. And this kept like that for a long periode of time then the qira'a of Yacoob was the most prevalent in Basra until the end of the fifth century while the people of a-Shaam kept reading the qira'a of ibn 'Amer until the end of the fifth century... But Ibn Mujahid toke al
Kissai and left Yacoob because the Rawys of his Qira-a were, much
more...and their have been Qura-a who have the same or higher state
then those 7 but they haven't had much rawys.
For example some Qira-at which are now unknown are that of:
- Shaybah ibn Nisah (شيبة) from Medina,
- ibn Mohaysin 1(and his prominent rawi's are al-Bazzi and ibn Shunbudh) and al-A'raj from Mekka,
- ibn Wathib and Sulayman ibn Mahran al-A'amash 1(and his prominent rawi's are al-Hassan ibn Sa'id al-Matu'i, abu al-Faraj and abu a-Shatwi) from al-Kufa,
- 'Abdullah ibn abi Isahaaq and Asim Al Jahdary (عاصم الجحدري) from Basra.
- 'Atyyah al-Kilabi and Yahya a-Dhamary from a-Shaam.
- And also that of al-Hassan al-Basry 1(and his prominent rawi's are Shuja' al-Balkhi and ad-Duri) and al-Yazidi 1(and his prominent rawi's are Sulayman ibn al-Hakam and Ahmad ibn Farah).
1: The reading of these four is considered as shaadh (irregular) by agreement of many scholars.
Reading/Qira'a - Riwya/Transmition- Tariq/Path
Nowadays 10 Readings are still known and more or less practiced and memorized.
Each of these Readers have 2 after him known Students (so called Rawys, narrators) who spread there different Readings, because for example Naf'i has collected (via some Tabi'yn) the Readings from abu Hurayra, ibn Abas, Ubay ibn Ka'ab and Zayd ibn Thabit...(may Allah be pleased with them). After the Rawys (in the narrator chains) you find the so called tariq/torouq.
Theses Rawys have been in case of Nafi Warsh and Qalun. For example some torouq of Warsh are al-Azraq and al-Asbahani. In fact this way there are 144 Tariq of the qira'a of Nafi'i that are well known. Riwayat Warsh according to al-Asbahani (died 294 a.H.) was well known in the Iraq after the 3rd Hijri century!
Warsh and ad-Duri (who was a studied 2 different readings the ones of al-Kissai and abi 'Amr) where somehow more than students of one reader. Warsh came to Nafi' after learning the readings in Egypt and Nafi' accepted or corrected him! And Khalaf a student of Hamzah himself is one of the 10 readers, but his own reading is considered just a midway between the readings from Kufi scholars! The reading of Hamzah was somehow disliked for some reasons by the salaf (some called it invention) for example his use of sakt (pause) was not used by anybody before him nevertheless his reading was correct.
In Case of the now most spread reading of 'Asim they were Hafs and the formerly more known riwaya of Sho'ba (also known as abu Bakr ibn Ayach). By the way, we say the the qira-a of 'Asim in/according the riwaya of Hafs قراءة عاصم برواية حفص or riwayat Hafs according (the reading of) 'Asim رواية حفص عن عاصم. 'Asim has collected (via some Tabi'yn) the Readings of ibn Mas'ud, 'Othman ibn 'Affan, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, Zayd ibn Thabit and Ubay ibn Ka'ab (may Allah be pleased with them). And according to some narrations Hafs only was taught the Reading of 'Ali while Sho'ba was taught the Reading of ibn Masu'd and they differ in about 520 words/letters in their Readings according to ibn Mujahid.
To complete the 10
We find on top of them one of the teachers of Nafi' abu Ja'afar (Yazid ibn al-Qa'aqa') أبو جعفر المدني who was before Nafi' and later Qalun the Imam at the Masjid an-Nabawi. His major transmitters were ibn Jammaz سليمان بن مسلم بن جماز and ibn Wardan عيسى بن وردان. His reading has a tawatur which is close to that of ibn Kathir (see above).
Then Ya'qub ibn Ishaaq al Hadrami يعقوب الحضرمي (From Basra). His major rawys were Ruways رويس and Rooh روح.
And Khalaf ibn Hisham (al Bazzaar) خلف بن هشام who was also a student of Hamza! His major rawys were Is-haaq إسحاق بن إبراهيم and Idriss إدريس بن عبد الكريم الحداد.
The riwaya of Hafs has been afterwards mostly unknown -even in Kufa- until the 'Othmans declared it as their official reading. As 'Asim was from Kufa like the Imam abu Hanifa (and in fact abu Hanifa was his student in Qur'an matters) and the 'Othmans where officialy Hanafya!
By the way especially al-Kissaiy and Abu 'Amr are known linguists of their time and representatives of the Arabic grammatical schools of Basra and Kufa!
On this page the author has done some effort and made statistics on the differences between all ten approved qira'at and found out, that:
There are 1315 words in the Qur'an wit two different (way of) qira'a.
105 words with three different (way of) qira'a.
24 words with four different (way of) qira'a.
3 words that have five different (way of) qira'a one ofthem ws repeated 11 times.
And no word that has sic or more different qira'a!
This numbers only reflect actual differences between words in their qira#a# far away from the basica rules (osol) of any qira'a and the recitation style/rules like imalah, madd etc. which may create a larger difference. As a word might be written the same way and read and interpreted differently!