There have been some teachers of the Qur’an who make the claim that the Qur’an was codified in the first century of the Hijrah and therefore, this codification is their ultimate source for the recitation of the Qur’an. Their take on the Tawaatur transmission of the Qur’an is limited to the initial stages when it was being revealed. Is this a fair assessment of the preservation of the Qur’an and is the claim that the oral recitation can be derived from books justified?
What does codification of the Qur’an mean? Is it true that the oral sanad was preserved and codified into writing early on, and therefore this means that we go back to the early writings of the scholars over the oral sanad that has reached us today? Is this why some people have come to the conclusion of another way of pronouncing the letter ض?
What is the Qur’an exactly?
In order to find the answers, we must go back to the very definition summarised by the scholars of what exactly the Qur’an is:
كلام الله المنزل علي نبيه محمد المعجز بلفظه المتعبد بتلاوته المنقول بالتواتر المكتوب في المصاحف من أول سورة الفاتحة إلي آخر الناس.
“It is the speech of Allah revealed upon His Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسمل), miraculous in its words, its recital is a worship, transmitted via Tawaatur, written in the Masaahif from the beginning of Surat alFatihah to the end of anNaas.”
If we take a closer look at the words “transmitted via Tawaatur” we see that in Arabic a noun has been used and not a verb. The significance of this is that a noun denotes a static state, i.e. that being transmitted via Tawaatur is the default and it remains this way continuously, as opposed to an action that is limited to the past, present or future. This in and of itself, shows that this transmission not only took place in the past but has continued this way till today, and Allah confirms this in His saying in Surat al-Hijr, verse 9:
Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.
The same could be said regarding the word حافظون in the above ayah. The pattern of this word is upon اسم فاعل, a noun referring to the doer of an action. In general, anything coming under the category of “nouns” refers to a static, unchanging state. Therefore, in this case Allah is the exclusive and perpetual guardian of the Qur’an and its preservation throughout time, not man. Otherwise, there is no difference between the Muslims and the People of the Book who were placed as guardians over the books revealed to them. Allah chooses what will be preserved, resulting in the complete book of His words He chooses to give to Mankind.
Additionally, Allah سبحانه وتعالى is the exclusive and perpetual Guardian of the Dhikr, another name for the Qur’an. He is not the Guardian for that which is recorded in books.
Now, if someone claims, ” Yes, the Qur’an is transmitted via Tawaatur and continues to do so till this day, but this Tawaatur is what is written in the books of scholars,” then we address this issue by explaining the definition of Tawaatur.
Definition of Tawaatur
Tawaatur is the agreement of a group of people on a matter in such a way that it is impossible for them to all have agreed upon a lie.
- A Mutawaatir report is that which has been transmitted from a group for whom it is impossible to gather upon a lie, or to report a lie even by coincidence, to another group with the same conditions
- This continues to the end of the chain.
- Any knowledge passed down must be based on the senses.
- These conditions must be present from the beginning of the chain till the end.
- If at any point any of the conditions are lost, the chain will no longer be considered Mutawaatir.
Forms of Tawaatur
- in words
- in meaning
- in practice
- in application
- and in recitation
In short, it can be in any “form” of whatever you want to transmit, and the form in which something is transmitted via Tawaatur, we will say it is via Tawaatur in that form.
Those who think that the Qur’an is transmitted via Tawaatur but that this is what is “written in the books”, are limiting Tawaatur of the Qur’an to words and meaning only, and this is actually the Tawaatur of aHaadeeth, because their words, meanings or both can be via Tawaatur, but not necessarily their pronunciation, so you will notice that aHaadeeth nowadays when “read” are done so with regular Arabic pronunciation of the words and not according to the pronunciation of the old Arabic dialects.
When it comes to the Qur’an however, the very recitation and pronunciation of each letter has also been transmitted orally via Tawaatur, and not just in word and meaning. This is a reason why we have the Qiraa’aat today.
And this is something unique to the Qur’an as it is primarily a “recited revelation” and hence it is called “Qur’an”. And Allah’s statement in Surat alHijr that He would preserve this, includes preserving its recitation, application and pronunciation of every letter and word. This is because Allah spoke in general and did not specify that He would only preserve its words or meanings, for example.
Therefore, to say that the oral sanad of the Qur’an (carrying its oral recitation, pronunciation, etc.) was codified into writing back in the beginning of Islam, and that therefore we go back to these writings over the oral sanad that has reached us today is a blasphemous statement. Writing alone cannot suffice the way to actually apply something, such as the pronunciation of the letters and words in this case. This involves disregard for the Tawaatur oral sanad that has reached us today and therefore an attack against it.
People who use this sort of thinking, firstly go against the vast majority of mainstream Muslim scholars, and secondly they are the ones who will bring changes to the oral recitation that do not exist in it.
The issue of the letter ض is a good example of this. These people, due to their misunderstanding of the preservation of the Qur’an, its recitation and its form of Tawaatur, will claim that the ض of the oral sanad that has reached us today is incorrect according to the “old descriptions of it in writing”. And thus they change letters of the Qur’an which are Tawqeefy and meant to be in the way Allah spoke them only, and He passed this oral recitation down to Jibril عليه السلام, to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, to the Sahabah, to those after them, to those after them until it reached us today exactly the same way.
Furthermore, the reason why writing alone cannot suffice actual practical (oral) application and pronunciation can be explained as follows:
There are three steps to understanding a concept:
1. First stage: to know the word. Example: the word “book”. At this stage, someone who has heard the word “book” but does not know what it means.
2. Second stage: to understand the meaning of the word. Example: it has been explained to someone what a “book” actually is, but has never actually seen one.
3. Third stage: to know the reality. Example, to know the reality of a “book” is actually perceiving it with one’s senses. This is someone who has passed the previous two stages, and has also actually seen the book and he knows the reality of the book.
So how does this tie in with the preservation of the recitation of the Qur’an? Saying that everything was codified into writing and that we can go to this to get the recitation is tantamount to saying that someone who has only reached the second stage above, will know the reality of the concept which comes in the third stage without actually perceiving it with their senses.
So someone who has only read written descriptions of how to pronounce letters for example, no matter how much they try to imagine what it would actually sound like, they would never truly know the reality until they actually heard it being pronounced.
This is why orientalists looking at old descriptions of the Arabic letters will describe them in ways different to what they actually are and they even differ amonsgt each other about them, simply because they have not experienced the reality of those letters, and are instead limiting themselves to written descriptions and ignoring the oral sanad.
As believers in Allah’s Last Testament, it is not befitting for a Muslim to handle the Qur’an in a similar fashion, reducing it to what can be learned from books, when it came down to us upon the tongue of an Angel, a Prophet, and a nation of Qurra’.
And Allah knows best.