Why are there differences in the copies of the Quran? Allah said something; then, He said something else.

The Details of the Question

- Why are there differences in the copies of the Quran? Allah said something; then, He said something else. What is the reason for it?
- Please do not misunderstand me. I believe in Allah and His Messenger; I am not an atheist. Let us consider two copies of the Quran. Hafs Copy and Warsh Copy. Hafs: Aali-Imran:133: ''wasaari'uu'' = and run. Warsh: Aali-Imran:133: ''saari'uu'' = run. Hafs: al-Maida:54: ''yartadda'' = returns Warsh: al-Maida:56: ''yartadid'' = returns. Hafs: al-Anbiya:4: ''qaala'' = said Warsh: Anbiya:4: ''qul'' = say Hafs: ash-Shams:15: ''walaayakhaafu'' = and does not fear. Warsh: ash-Shams:15: ''falaayakhaafu'' = and does not fear. Hafs: al-Baqara:58: ''naghfir'' = we forgive. Warsh: al-Baqara:57:''yughfar'' = is forgiven. Hafs: al-Baqara:140: ''taquluna'' = you say. Warsh: al-Baqara:139:''yaquluna'' = they say. Hafs: al-Baqara:259:''nunshizuhaa'' = we are bringing together; we are building Warsh: al-Baqara:258:''nunshiruhaa'' = we are reviving Hafs: Aali-Imran:81:''ataytukum'' = I gave you. Warsh: Aali-Imran:80:''ataynakum'' = we gave you Hafs: al-Baqara:9:''yakhda'uuna'' = they deceive. Warsh: al-Baqara:8: ''yukhaadi'uuna'' they try to deceive. Hafs: al-Baqara:10:''yakdhibuuna'' = they deny Warsh: al-Baqara:9: ''yukadhdhibuuna'' = they were denied Hafs: al-Baqara:214:''yaquula'' = saying Warsh: al-Baqara:212:''yaquulu'' = says Hafs: Aali-Imran:146:''qatala'' = he killed Warsh: Aali-Imran:146:''qutila'' = he was killed Hafs: al-Qasas:48:''sihraani'' = two magics. Warsh: al-Qasas:48:''saahiraani'' = two magicians.
- My question is as follows: Why do those differences exist? Allah said something; then, He said something else. What is the reason for it?
- Please do not misunderstand me. I believe in Allah and His Messenger.

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

- First of all, we should state that the issue is related to the types of qira’ah (reciting/pronunciation). Qira’at sab’ah = seven types of qira’ah and Qira’at ashara = ten types of qira’ah exist in the resources related to the sciences of the Quran.

All of those different types of qira’ah are based on the Prophet (pbuh) through different chains of narrations.

However, the copies of the Quran showing the other types of qira’ah were not printed. Only the copies of the Quran written based on Hafs qira’ah, which is the one the majority of the scholars read, and Warsh qira’ah, which is the one generally read in African countries were printed.  

The different pronunciations mentioned above does not mean that there are different words in different copies of the Quran. On the contrary, the writing style of the copies of the Quran written during the caliphate of Hz. Uthman (rasm khatt Uthmani) has the esthetic and flexibility that allows different pronunciations.

We will try to explain the issue in a few items:

a) Firstly, as it is understood from the examples given in the question, there is no contradiction that will distort the meaning between the way of pronunciation of the Warsh Copy and Hafs Copy of the Quran.

For example, the word “QTL” mentioned in verse 146 of Aal-i Imran is written as “QAATALA” in Hafs Copy; the alif lengthening the letter Qaf (Q) is written in the form of “a small vowel sign”. Thus, that word can be pronounced as both by being lengthened as “QAATALA” (the unlengthened form “Qatala” mentioned in the question is wrong) and in the passive form as “QUTILA”. The latter exists in Hafs Copy.

Since there are no vowel signs in the first copies of the Quran, it is possible to pronounce words differently in Arabic. The pronunciation “qaatala=fought” in the former is in the form of “qatala=killed” in Warsh Copy. The importance of fighting in the way of Allah and showing patience during jihad is generally mentioned in the verse. One of the pronunciations indicates jihad and the other indicates being a martyr during jihad.

b) In the Islamic literature, it is accepted that all of the seven types of qira’ah were heard from the Prophet through sound ways. Accordingly, the Prophet pronounced a word in a verse in two different ways. It is Allah who revealed those qira’ahs to him and informed him about them.

The wisdom behind it is pointing out the different meanings included in the concise expression of the verse, and expanding the scope of the verse by showing clearly the different meanings that exist implicitly in the expression of the Quran but that is not seen by everybody.  

- For example, the first word in the verse “Maaliki yawmiddin” in the chapter of al-Fatiha is written as “MALIK”; this word can be pronounced as both “Malik” and “maalik” in terms of Arabic writing.

This difference, that is, two different pronunciations of the same word shows that Allah is both the owner and sovereign of the Day of Reckoning. That wide scope is a manifestation of different pronunciations.

c) That different way of qira’ah also originates from different dialects used by the people belonging to an illiterate nation at that time. That is, the Prophet might have pronounced the same word based on different dialects in the presence of the people having different dialects. For example, according to Hafs qira’ah, the present tense form of the verb “irtadda” meaning “to return” mentioned in verse 54 of the chapter of al-Maida can be pronounced in the form of “yartadda” and also in the form of “yartadid”, as it is pronounced in Warsh qira’ah.

d) The word “Sihrani” (two magics) in verse 48 of the chapter of al-Qasas in Hafs qira’ah is pronounced as “sahirani” (two magicians) in Warsh qira’ah.

Thus, a word is given a wider meaning with that qira’ah:

Those who pronounce the word in the verse as “sihrani=two magics” mean the books of the Torah and the Gospel. That is, those two books are sources of magic. Those who pronounce it as “sahirani=two magicians” mean that the unbelievers called Hz. Musa (Moses) and Hz. Isa (Jesus) magicians.  

e) We should say it again that those different ways of qira’ah are based on the Prophet (pbuh) through sound ways. The difference is in question not only for Warsh qira’ah but also for other qira’ah scholars. The issue is indicated in tafsir resources when necessary. (For example, tafsirs of Tabari and Razi)

- That difference does not mean “oppositeness and contrariness”. A word is pronounced in different ways so that it will indicate two or three meanings.

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