Do the rules of Tajweed (or Usool) originate from Arabic Grammar?


arabicA common misconception spreading in the circles of students and teachers of the Qur’an is the notion that the Usool of the Qiraa’aat are all based on and originate from Arabic grammar.

Before we address this issue, it’s important to understand what the “Usool” of the Qiraa’aat are.  The Usool of the Qiraa’aat is defined as follows:

They are the encompassing, un-interrupted rules such as the rules of the Meem al-Jam’, the rules of the Mudood, Imaalah and Fat-h, the rules of Idghaam, the Sakt (breathless stops), etc.

These rules repeat themselves throughout the Qur’an.  If certain conditions are in place, then the rule applies.  When there are specific places where a word is recited differently and there is no rule to derive this from, this refers to Furoosh, not Usool.  An example of differences in Furoosh is the recitation of مالك vs. ملك.  The point to remember is that Usool is much bigger and more general than Furoosh, and the the word “Usool” here can be equally referred to as the rules of Tajweed.  They are synonymous with each other.

When someone studies Arabic grammar, he will notice that a lot of these rules of Tajweed are actually found in Arabic grammar.   However, does this mean that if someone becomes an expert in Arabic grammar, that they can derive these rules of Tajweed, and therefore a new recitation of the Qur’an if it is allowed according to the rules of Arabic grammar?  The answer is obviously no.

Does this mean that the great Imams of the Qiraa’aat of the past, many of whom were experts in Arabic grammar, “chose” the best way something should be recited based on their knowledge of Arabic grammar?  The answer is obviously no here also.

Many people make this claim, both in the past in the in present.  They claim that if someone knows the reasons behind a rule being applied from a grammatical perspective, then as long as they have a grammatical reason, they can recite the Qur’an a certain way.  According to these people, the only problem is that there is no one alive today who knows the in’s and out’s of Arabic grammar skilled enough to do something like that, and that’s why we’re “stuck” with the recitations we have available and confirmed today. 

The correct way to understand this issue is as follows:

While most rules of Tajweed are grammatical in nature, they are not derived from Arabic grammar.

We say “most” rules because everything is grammatical in nature except for 3 things:

  1. the Mudood (elongation of the Madd letters: ا – و – ي)
  2. the Ghunnah (elongation of the nasal sound)
  3. the Sakt (breathless stops)

These three aspects of the recitation are NOT born from Arabic grammar.  These are rules that are specific to the recitation of the Qur’an only.

كان ابنُ مسعودٍ يُقْرِئُ رجلًا فقرأَ الرجلُ إِنَّما الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاءِ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ مُرْسَلَةٌ فقال ابنُ مسعودٍ ما هكذا أَقْرَأَنِيها رسولُ اللهِ صلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّم قال كيفَ أَقْرَأَكَها يَا أبا عبدِ الرحمنِ قال أقرأَنِيها إِنَّما الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاءِ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ فمَدَّدُوهَا
الراوي: مسعود بن يزيد الكندي المحدث: الهيثمي – المصدر: مجمع الزوائد – الصفحة أو الرقم: 7/158
خلاصة حكم المحدث: رجاله ثقات

Ibn Mas’ood was teaching a man when this man recited: إِنَّما الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاءِ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ, without elongating the Madd of للفقراء.  So Ibn Mas’ood said, “This is not how the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم taught me this verse.”  The man asked, “How did he teach it to you, O Father of ‘Abd al-Rahman?”  Ibn Mas’ood replied, “He taught me (and he recited إِنَّما الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاءِ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ).”  He elongated the Madd of للفقراء.

[Majma’ al-Zawa’id, 7/158]

Having said that, if we assume that the rules are derived from grammar, then what will stop a person from reciting according to his/her understanding of Arabic grammar, based on what they find is allowed or not allowed in the language?   What will stop a person from doing so in modern times except that thorough knowledge of the Arabic language as spoken during the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is impossible to acquire?

The truth of the matter is that it goes against the very definition of the Qur’an to claim that the rules of Tajweed are derived from the Arabic language itself.  How is this so?  Let’s examine the definition a little more closely:

هو كلام الله تعالى المعجز ، المنزل على قلب نبينا محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم المتعبد بتلاوته ، المكتوب بين الدفتين ، المنقول إلينا بالتواتر ، المتحدى بأقصر سورة منه.
It is the miraculous speech of Allah, Most High, revealed in stages upon the heart of our Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم, the recitation of which is considered an act of worship, written between the two covers, transmitted to us by way of Tawatur chains, and was posed as a challenge to Mankind by its shortest Surah.

If we focus on the underlined portion of this definition, the Qur’an’s main miracle is that it cannot be reproduced in any way: not one Ayah, not one Surah.

قُل لَّئِنِ اجْتَمَعَتِ الْإِنسُ وَالْجِنُّ عَلَىٰ أَن يَأْتُوا بِمِثْلِ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ لَا يَأْتُونَ بِمِثْلِهِ وَلَوْ كَانَ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ ظَهِيرًا
Say, “If mankind and the jinn gathered in order to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like of it, even if they were to each other assistants.”
[Surat al-Israa’, verse 88]

al-quran11It doesn’t matter how many people gather for this purpose.  It doesn’t matter if they all put their expertise together and all their resources.  This Qur’an cannot be reproduced.

The same goes for expertise in Arabic grammar.  It doesn’t matter how deep a person has gone to master Arabic grammar.  This knowledge will not enable someone to come up with a recitation of the Qur’an.  The Qur’an is not to be reduced to a number of Arabic grammar rules, just as the Qur’an cannot be reduced to numbers based on a supposed “numerical miracle”.   The Arabs during the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم were experts in their language, and they were the ones who were left dumbfounded, unable to produce anything like it.  So what about the people of today?

The Qur’an is the Miraculous Speech of Allah; and just like there is no one like the likeness of Allah, there is no speech that can even compare to the Speech of Allah.

The Qur’an is recited as our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم taught his companions رضي الله عنهم, who went on to teach their students and the chains continued until the Qur’an reached us today.  The Imams of the Qiraa’aat did not “choose” (make اختيار) what was to be recited and how based on their knowledge of the language.  Rather, the Imams recited to many, many different scholars in different lands.  When they “chose”, they “chose” from the best of what they recited to these different scholars, and this is the meaning of Ikhtiyaar.  It does NOT mean that they chose according to the best of what they “knew” or understood, because the Qur’an cannot be passed down except exactly how it was recited/heard.  This particular point will be elaborated on further in a future post, in sha Allah.

And Allah knows best.


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