Brief History Of Qira’at
By Qari Saleem Gaibie
That the Qurān was revealed verbatim is a historical fact. While this suggests that there were no variations, the opposite is true for it was revealed variously taking in account the numerous dialects of the tribes of Arabia. Its subsequent transmission and instruction by the Prophet (saw), the Companions and all succeeding generations preserved its texts and every minutiae of its pronunciation. The path of instruction – both oral and written – is direct and the chain continuous:
a) The Prophet (saw) to the Companions [Sahābah] (ra).
b) The Companions (ra) to their Successors [Tābi˘ūn] (ra).
c) The Successors (ra) to their Students [Tābi˘ū al-Tābi˘īn] (ra) and so forth till present times.
It was during the era of the Successors (ra) and the period immediately thereafter that exceptional individuals became renowned as teachers of the Qurān.
In every major city of the Islamic lands individuals excelled:
1) Mecca had Ibn Kathīr.
2-3) In Medina were Abū Ja˘far and Nāfi˘.
4) Ibn ˘Āmir hailed from Shām.
5-8) ˘Āsīm, Hamzah, Kisā’ī and Khalaf were from Kufa.
9-10) Basra was the home of Abū ˘Amr and Ya˘qūb.
These ten teachers are known simply as al-Qurrā’ al-˘Asharah or the Ten Readers. Whenever a person recites the Qurān correctly, he inevitably does so in accordance with one of the readings of the Ten Readers. It is therefore commonly said that he recites according to the reading of Nāfi˘ or any of the other teachers. This is so because their renditions of the Prophetic manner of recitation reached such acclaim for their authenticity and correctness that it eventually began carrying their names.
It has been suggested that they are the authors of these readings but this is incorrect for these readings were passed on to them preserved in their original form by way of the chains of narration called sanads. Their names are synonymous with these Qurānic readings simply because of their exceptional dedication to its study, correct rendition, instruction and preservation. The books of history are replete with the details of their abilities, efforts and lives spent in learning and teaching the authentic Qurān. Additionally, it should also be remembered that they were not the only Muslims practicing or teaching these readings but rather that they outshone others. Their readings are therefore the most authentic and are known as al-Qirā’āt al-˘Asharah or the Ten Readings.
The Transmitters [Ruwāt]
Those who narrated these readings from these ten teachers, whether directly or indirectly, became known as the transmitters [ruwāt]. Each of the ten teachers has two transmitters, as chosen by Ibn al-Jazarī. There were many other transmitters but these were the most prominent to which scholars most commonly referred.
The Ways [Turuq]
Those who narrated from the transmitters [ruwāt] are known as the turuq or ways. Again it is inconsequential whether their narration from the transmitters is direct or indirect. The various ways [turuq] are divided into turuq ra’īsiyyah/asliyyah [primary ways] and turuq far˘iyyah [secondary ways]. According to the selection of Ibn al-Jazarī each transmitter has four primary ways [turuq].
Those who narrate from these primary ways [turuq ra’īsiyyah/asliyyah] are known as turuq far˘iyyah [secondary ways]. The most famous reading [qirā’ah] is that of ˘Āsīm according to the narration [riwāyah] of Hafs via the way [tarīq] of al-Shātibī.
The various differences in these many ways [turuq] are documented in works dealing with variant readings. For example, differences in the tarīq of Shātibī for the narration of Hafs are detailed in al-Hirz al-Amānī wa Wajhu al-Tahānī, better known as al- Shātibīyyah.
The Shātibiyyah of Imam Shātibī
It was written by Al-Qāsim bin Fīrruh ibn Khalaf ibn Ahmad al-Ru˘aynī al-Shātibī, better known as Imam Shātibī. He was born in Shātibah in 538 A.H.
Before Imam Shātibī completed his work, the qurrā` in Egypt would memorise the book al-˘Unwān by Abū Tāhir Ismā˘īl ibn Khalaf al-Andalusī (died 455 A.H.). When they were introduced to the Shātibiyyah, they left memorising al-˘Unwān and started memorising and studying the Shātibiyyah. Subsequently, they read the seven qirā`āt as defined in the Shātibiyyah. This acclaim for the Shātibiyyah was not restricted to Egypt alone but throughout the Muslim lands. Abū Shāmmah mentions that the seven qirā`āt are made easier for the student via the Shātibiyyah.
Ibn al-Jazarī says that whoever embarks on the study of this poem will realise the brilliance and proficiency of the author. He adds that no other book of qirā`āt has become as famous as the Shātibiyyah. Furthermore he emphasises that a student of qirā`āt cannot be found without a copy of the Shātibiyyah; in fact he deems that no Islamic land is without a copy of this exceptional book. No other book of qirā`āt is memorised, read and studied as much. People vied to have copies of the Shātibiyyah, so much so that Ibn al-Jazarī states that he had one copy written by Hujayj, a student of Sakhāwī. He was offered its weight in silver to sell the copy, but he refused.
The Shātibiyyah comprises of the seven qirā`āt as transmitted from the seven famous qurrā`. Each of these qurrā` has two transmitters, totaling a number of fourteen narrations.
The Nashr of Imam Ibn al-Jazarī
Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn ˘Alī ibn Yūsuf al-˘Umarī al-Dimashqī was born in the year 751 AH.
Through the ages scholars have authored a great many works in the field of qirā’āt. If we consider Abū ˘Ubayd al-Qāsim ibn al-Sallām to be the first to have written in this area of scholarship – as suggested by al-Jazarī – then this started in the third hijrī century. If we consider more rudimentary works such as those of Abū ˘Amr Ibn al-˘Alā’, Hamzah, al-Kisā’ī and others, then works on qirā’āt have been penned since as early as the second and even first hijrī centuries.
The works of these scholars were firmly based on the isnād system as employed in hadith sciences. An author would therefore include in his work only those readings directly received from his teachers. If A, for example, read to B, C and D, the former would only record the qirā’āt he received from them. If other scholars, such as E and F, narrated variant readings not received by A from his teachers, he would refrain from including these readings [qirā’āt]. This was the case even when he was knowledgeable of the details of the variant readings and able to render it, for scholarly trust [amānah ˘ilmiyyah] demanded that he record only the readings authorised by direct reception. This manner of committing the various sciences of qirā’āt to paper continued till the ninth century.
In the ninth century many were of the opinion that only the seven readings as documented in the Shātibiyyah were authentic. Ibn al-Jazarī therefore wrote his book, al-Durrah, on the three qirā`āt which completed the seven found in the Shātibiyyah. The Durrah was based upon the same meter and rhyme-scheme of the Shātibiyyah. These ten readings i.e. the seven as found in the Shātibiyyah and the additional three mentioned in the Durrah is known as the minor ten readings [qirā`āt ˘asharah sughrā].
Ibn al-Jazarī traveled extensively studying by numerous teachers of qirā’āt. This allowed him to narrate the various chains of narration particular to qirā’āt via a myriad of books. His later work and magnum opus, the Nashr, is therefore unique in that it includes the content documented in 37 other works, including the Shātibiyyah.
The study of this scholarly text is therefore effectively that of 37 works, multiplying the arduousness of its analysis tremendously yet simultaneously increasing its benefit over any other work on qirā’āt. Ibn al-Jazarī later converted the Nashr into poetry which he named Tayyibah al-Nashr. The qirā`āt contained in these two works are referred to as the major ten readings [qirā`āt ˘asharah kubrā].