Well the major point is the definition of ahruf... there are many interpretations and no real consensus: if I remember well Imam as-Suyuti in his itqaan الإتقان في علوم القرآن mentioned a long list of interpretation explaining each POV I guess -because I read this part of his book long ago so I don't remember well and don't call this book my own- he ended up with more the 40 interpretations of which he didn't set any superior to the others and considered them among the matter of the "mutashabih" similarly to ibn al-'Arabi who said the matter is very difficult! Mulla 'Ali al-Qari even added a 41st case.
Nevertheless one could say there are two most likely correct views:
- The first of this two views is that it means they are different words with the same meaning basically synonyms, however they restrict the synonyms on those that the prophet () has taught some of his sahabah (), as we cannot come with a meaning and use it and pretend its the word of Allah, as this would be a lie about the qur'an being the word of Allah and that the prophet () has reported it from his Creator nor it was revealed to him via Jibreel. There are several sahih ahadith that confirm and strengthen this view.
- The second of these two views is that it is referring to 7 fasih Arabic dialects among them that of Quraish, Hudhail, Tameem, Dabah, Kinanah, banu Asad and Qays.
As imam al-Hilali stated in a poem:
In the following I'm translating from Arabic language, as these translations are of my own take them carefully!
وأحـرفهـا في الذكـر تنبـي بأنها # لـغـات لـقـوم سبعــة هـكـذا ورد
And the letters in the dhikr indicate that they are the languages of seven peoples (tribes). This is how it was stated
قـريـش تمـيـم ضبـة و كنانـة # وباقيهـم قيـس هـذيـل بـنـو أســد
The Quraish, Tamim, Dabbah, and Kinanah, and the rest of them are Qais Hudhayl and Banu Asad
Note that there's even a dispute about the meaning of 7 ahruf:
- The majority view is taking it literally, based on some sahih ahadith in which the prophet () asked Allah to make the recitation easier on the ummah in several steps (7 at the end).
- Among the scholars some interpreted seven as a synonym of a huge amount as Arabs when meaning to say many use 7, 70, 700 ... among those who held this view are al-Qadi 'Iyad and he also used sahih hadith to underline it.
Most of the related evidences/references are mentioned in Who said the last part of "Bukhari 2287," Umar (رضي الله عنه) or our beloved Prophet (صلى الله عليه واله وسلم)?
Most scholars say we still have 7 ahruf now.
Why? Because if we assume that ahruf means language of the tribes then even if the major parts of the Quran is written in the language of Quraish you'll find words from hudail, thaqiif etc. in it. While at-Tabari held to opinion that we recite the qur'an by the harf of Zayd ibn Thabit.
In other words scholars some say that the restriction made by the Moshafs compiled at the time of 'Uthman made a restriction on one harf.
Others say that these ahruf are shown through the different qiraat, as if the different grammar schools represent a harf in case of difference. The major grammar schools are al-Kufa and al-Basra.
Many of the interpretations of ahruf are related to the way of recitation (tajweed) so some count as ahruf imala, madd etc. or different recitation of the same word or expression like (I write here how it's recited or pronounced in the recitation) (this is the "fasih" origin according the hanbali linguist al 'Okbari it's the reading of ibn Kathir al Makki!) الصراط, السراط , and الزراط or ننشرها and ننشزها etc.!
Those who believe that the 7 ahruf don't exist my count what I may call recitation using synonyms (a reference with examples will be linked later) as an evidence. As this was no more allowed after 'Othman sent out the copies of Quran to the major cities of Islam!
In the book about the Quran sciences of Sheikh al-Buti (May Allah be merciful to him) you may find a hadith, where it's shown that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) could understand -apparently- all Arabic slangs as he answered a Question while all the sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) around him didn't even understand what the Inquirer was saying because in his slang at-Tumtomanya الطُمْطمانية he was replacing letters with others so he answered the question in the same language:
لَيْسَ مِنْ امْبِرِّ امْصِيَامُ فِي امْسَفَرِ (Musnad Ahmad 5/434 on the authority of Ka'ab ibn 'Asim al-Asha'ry (May Allah be pleased with him))
ليس من البرِّ الصيامُ في السَّفر
so one interpretation is as stated above is that the 7 languages you mentioned are the 7 major ahruf because they refer to a fasih language, while any other languages have never been part of the Quran. Here's a list of other old Arabic Slangs/Languages (in Arabic)
Now AFAIK the Qiraat which were accepted and considered as the most sahih all have a narrator chain were the first transmitter after our Messenger (peace be upon him) is one of these sahaba:
- Othman ibn 'Affan (from Quraish)
- Ali ibn abi Talib (from Quraish)
- Ubay ibn Ka'ab (from Hudhail?)
- Abdullah ibn Masu'd (from Hudhail)
- Zayd ibn Thabit (from Hudhail?)
- Abu Musa al-Ash'ary (from Yemen)
- Abu a-Darda' (from Hudhail?)
while there have been other hafiz between the sahaba we don't know their qira'a like Mu'ad ibn Jabal, Abu Zayd and Salim mawla abu Hudaifah, Abdullah ibn 'Amr, 'Uqbah ibn 'Amir, some added 'Omar ibn al Khattab as some asaneed of the 10 qiraat refer to him! (reference in Arabic)
All of them used to teach Quran even before the collection of 'Othman or earlier the collection of abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with them). The major difference between those both collections is that 'Othman ordered a committee, where the scribe was Zaid ibn Thabit (one of the scribes of our Messenger (Peace be upon him)) and the one who dictated was Said ibn al-'Aass who had a similar slang/language/pronunciation as the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and he also ordered in case of a difference of spelling reading etc. between the members of the committee to refer to the language of Quraish, therefore if there have been words in the Quran kept which are not original in the language of Quraish this is because people at the time have already accepted or confirmed the other Version to be more expressive (or something like that). And also because some tribes had single words or expressions to express some Issue's, where others needed many words or sentences to express the same meaning. As before that the Sahaba tried to teach the Quran as easy as possible, so using synonyms was allowed (see my examples in the answer of What are the readings (qira'at) of Quran?).
In his book as-Suytuti made a list about words which are not explicitly from the language of Quraish!
Here some examples from an other source:
- In (2:90) the expression "بئسما اشتروا" is from hudhail and means: "How wretched is that which they sold" while it's literally meaning is "How wretched is that for which they bought"
- In (2:227) the expression "عزموا الطلاق" means literally "If they decided or want to get divorced" while it must be understood in hudhali "if they realized talaq"!
- In (16:47) "أو يؤخذهم على تخوف" means literally "Or that He would not take them because of their fear of the punishment" while it must be understood in hudhali "Or that He would not seize them gradually", so تخوف here means تنقص in the language of Quraish.
Note that the influence of hudhali in riwayat hafs is very prevalent as it is one of the qiraat which has an abuse of "hamzah" in the words "ء, ؤ, ئ,أ,".
Article series of this source shows expressions from kinaanah, himyar, qays 'aylan, tay', a-nabat, the tribe of anmar, tamym, tribe of yemen, tribe of madhaj ...
The language of Quraish might be dominent, but many words were unknown even to the sahabah of Quraish
Further there are reports that clearly indicate that sahabah from Quraish didn't understand the full meaning of some words in the Qur'an before they were informed about it either by other people or people from their own tribe who knew the meaning:
For example imam at-Tabari reports in his tafsir on (6:14):
فاطر السماوات والأرض
فاطر and the verb فطر could have different meaning based on the context as you may read here.
13111 - حدثنا به ابن وكيع قال، حدثنا يحيى بن سعيد القطان، عن سفيان، عن إبراهيم بن مهاجر، عن مجاهد قال: سمعت ابن عباس يقول: كنت لا أدري ما"فاطر السماوات والأرض"، حتى أتاني أعرابيان يختصمان في بئر، فقال أحدهما لصاحبه:"أنا فطرتها"، يقول: أنا ابتدأتها. (Source)
Ibn Waki’ told us, he said, Yahya bin Saeed al-Qattan told us, from Sufyan, from Ibrahim ibn Muhajir, from Mujahid, he said: I heard Ibn Abbas saying: I did not know what “the Creator of the heavens and the earth” was, until two Arabs came to me arguing in a well, and one of them said to his owner: “I created it,” he says: I initiated (or created) it.
So how could this be the language of Quraish, while ibn 'Abbas didn't know what "فاطر السماوات والأرض" meant?
The same applies to the last sentence in (7:89):
ربنا افتح بيننا وبين قومنا بالحق
The "افتح" literally is the imperative of فتح which means to open but could have other meanings as you may read here.
At-Tabari again reported that ibn 'Abbas didn't know the meaning until he got it from a conversation (this is one of different reports):
14854-حدثنا ابن وكيع قال، حدثنا أبي، عن مسعر، عن قتادة، عن ابن عباس قال: ما كنت أدري ما قوله: (ربنا افتح بيننا وبين قومنا بالحق) ، حتى سمعت ابنة ذي يزن تقول:"تعال أفاتحك"، تعني: أقاضيك. (Source)
14854- We were told by ibn Waki' that he said, my father told us, from Mas'aar, from of Qatada, from of ibn Abbas, he said: I did not know what he said: (Our Lord, open between us and our people with truth), until I heard the daughter of Dhi Yazan say: “Come, I will sue you,” meaning: I sue you.
As a matter of fact the well known hadith about the seven ahruf (See for example in Sahih al-Bukhari) shows the issue even more because both 'Umar ibn al-Khattab who wanted to start a quarrel because of Hisham's different recitation of verses of surat al-Furqan and Hisham ibn Hakim ibn Hazim هشام بن حكيم are from Quraish, it is therefore unlikely that 'Umar would have issues understanding Hisham unless the prophet () taught him a different reading.
Now one major point which creates lot of confusion is 7 ahruf vs. 7 qiraat, at least we know that their are 10 well accepted qiraat so this should be a first mismatch. And one should know that even one of these qiraat may include many ahruf if we assume that ahruf means language of the tribes.
One example of differences which I think is well explained my answer on
How to explain the recitation لَئِنْ انجــينا (verse 6.63) by Al-Azami in his book "The History of the Quranic text"?
Scholars say that the difference of qira'at is an enrichment, because there could be a very slight difference in meaning which maybe helpful to extract a more exact ruling for fiqh for example. Or a different qiraa'a just gives a different sight angle of a story: for example passive/active form... So it was the Quran which lead to a development of the Arabic grammar.
Some modern scholars chose an interpretation of ahruf so according to that they could give the required map, but as you may understand this wouldn't be possible or at least is difficult according to show according the circumstances.
Maybe a simple answer for the existence of many ahruf even after the "unification" due to 'Othman's Quran collection, is that the rasm of al-Mushaf (= scripture of the Quranic text) allowed many -legal- interpretations, but one must be aware that these interpretations should go ahead at least with one of the oral transmissions with a sane narrator chain and of course with a clear and allowed (therefore correct or legal) Arabic meaning!
I'd like also to point at my answer on Why is the Hafs reading of the Qur'an so prevalent?, which includes a historical "dispersion" of the qiraat in the Muslim world.
Finally about your Verse counting Issue please consider reading my answer on How many ayaths are there in Al-Quran?.
I hope I could help!
And Allah knows best!