Introduction to Quranic Variants


Bassam Zawadi


This will be divided into the following sections: 

  • Introduction 
  • Abrogation
  • The Seven Modes of recitation 
  • Conclusion



Some try to argue that there are variants in the Quran and that this is a devastating blow against Muslim claims of its preservation. However, unlike the variants found in the New Testament (see here), these variants are actually part of Islamic teachings approved by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Therefore, as a Muslim, I am OBLIGED TO ACCEPT THEM. Muslims have formed a consensus regarding them, and it comes as no surprise to them, unlike how Christians over time discovered forgeries in their Bible, which affect key doctrinal issues (e.g., Mark 16:9-20, John 8:1-8, 1 John 5:7) and have gone undetected for hundreds of years amongst the Christian community. This only goes to show how careless Christians have been in taking care of their Bible, which provides us with reasonable doubt regarding its authenticity. Only God knows what future archaeological digs and manuscript findings will reveal about other interpolated verses in the Bible, unlike the Quran, which has and will never have this problem.  


Most of the arguments put forth by Christian missionaries on the Quran are based on hadith, which shows that certain verses have been abrogated from the Quran. To learn more about abrogation, please read this

There are three types of abrogation in the Quran:

Three Kinds of Naskh (abrogation) in the Quran

The scholars have divided abrogation into three kinds:

1)Abrogation of the recited (verse) together with the legal ruling.

2)Abrogation of the legal ruling without the recited (verse).

3)Abrogation of the recited (verse) without the legal ruling.

(Ibn Salama, al-nasikh wa al-mansukh, Cairo, 1966, p.5, cited here)

Ahmad von Denffer said:


For abrogation of the recited (verse) together with its legal ruling:

'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that it had been revealed in the Holy Qur'an that ten clear sucklings make the marriage unlawful, then it was abrogated (and substituted) by five sucklings and Allah's apostle (may peace be upon him) died and it was before that time (found) in the Holy Qur'an (and recited by the Muslims). [34 Muslim, II, No. 3421.]

For abrogation of a legal ruling without the recited (verse):

'O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou has paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom God has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her; - this only for thee and not for the believers (at large);We know what we have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess; - in order that there should be no difficulty for thee and God is oft-forgiving, most merciful' (33: 50).

'It is not lawful for thee (to marry more) women after this, nor to change them for (other) wives, even though their beauty attract thee, except any thy right hand should possess (as handmaidens); and God doth watch over all things' (33: 52).

This is one of the few very clear examples of naskh, though only concerning the Prophet specifically, since for Muslims in general the number of wives has been restricted to four. (Sura 4:3).

For abrogation of the recited (verse) without the legal ruling:

'Abdullah bin 'Abbas reported that 'Umar bin Khattab sat on the pulpit of Allah's messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Verily Allah sent Muhammad (may peace be upon him) with truth and he sent down the book upon him, and the verse of stoning was included in what was sent down to him. We recited it, retained it in our memory and understood it. Allah's messenger (may peace be upon him) awarded the punishment of stoning to death (to the married adulterer and adulteress) and after him, we also awarded the punishment of stoning. I am afraid that with the lapse of time, the people (may forget it) and may say: We do not find the punishment of stoning in the book of Allah, and thus go astray by abandoning this duty prescribed by Allah. Stoning is a duty laid down in Allah's book for married men and women who commit adultery when proof is established, or if there is pregnancy or a confession. [Muslim, III, No. 4194; Bukhari, VIII, No. 816.]

The punishment of stoning for adultery by married people has been retained in the sunna, while it is not included in the Qur'an . (Ahmad von Denffer, Ulum al Qur'anSource)

Imam Al Baji said:

لأن القرآن لا يثبت إلا بالخبر المتواتر , وأما خبر الآحاد فلا يثبت به قرآن                                                                          

Because the Quran is not confirmed unless with Mutawattir narrations, and the Quran cannot be confirmed by Ahad narrations (Abû al-Walîd Sulaymân ibn Khalaf al-Bâjî, Al Muntaqaa Sharh Muwata'a Maalik, Kitab: Al Ridaa', Bab: Jaami' Maa Jaa'a fi Al Ridaa'a, Commentary on Hadith no. 1118, Source)

So, the Quran can only be confirmed with Mutawatir narrations:

A mutawatir hadith is one which is reported by such a large number of people that they cannot be expected to agree upon a lie, all of them together. (al-Jaza'iri, p.33, cited here) 

Examples of mutawatir hadith include those that talk about the five pillars of Islam and recitation of the Qur'an. (Source) 

So, as we see, we cannot accept any verse as part of the Quran unless it came down to us from Mutawattir narrations. All these hadith about Quranic variants come from Ahad narrations. 

A hadith ahad or khabar wahid is one which is narrated by people whose number does not reach that of the mutawatir case. (Source) 

However, I will address this issue anyway so that Christian missionaries do not assume that we are running away from this issue (although this issue poses no problem at all). This is because the hadith indicates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered the verse to be abrogated either by recitation, ruling, or both. So, if we want to accept these hadiths, we must accept them in their totality and conclude that abrogation is indeed a part of Islamic teachings.

One may ask, "What is the wisdom behind abrogating the ruling of a verse but keeping its recitation?" Suyuti answers this question:

فإن قلت‏:‏ ما الحكمة في رفع الحكم وبقاء التلاوة؟  فالجواب من وجهين‏:                                                  

‏ أحدهما‏:‏ أَنَّ القرآن كما يتلى ليعرف الحُكْم منه والعمل به، فيتلى لكونه كلام الله فيثاب عليه، فتركت التلاوة لهذه الحكمة‏.                                                                                 ‏

والثاني‏:‏ أنَّ النسخ غالبًا يكون للتخفيف، فأُبقيت التلاوة تذكيرًا للنعمة، ورفع المشقَّة 

If you said: What is the wisdom of lifting the injunction but keeping the recitation? The answer is from two angles: -

One of them: The Quran is recited in order to know what injunctions it imposes and to act upon them, so it is recited because it is the word of Allah so he gets rewarded, so its recitation has remained for this wisdom.

And the second: That the abrogation is usually done to be an ease, so the recitation has remained as a reminder of the blessing, and removal of burden.

(Al Suyuti, Al Itqaan Fi Ulum Al Quran, Section: The Wisdom of the Lifting of the Injunction But Remaining of Recitation, Source:   

So, as we can see, there are two possibilities. One is that we realize the blessing of Allah when we see that He relieved us from following a certain law, and secondly, we receive a reward for reciting each verse of the Quran. This is confirmed in the following hadith: 

It is well known that reading one letter of the book of Allaah brings a tenfold reward, as al-Tirmidhi (2910) narrated that 'Abd-Allaah ibn Mas'ood (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "Whoever reads one letter of the Book of Allaah will have one hasanah for it, and each hasanah is a tenfold reward. I do not say that alif-laam-meem is a letter, rather alif is a letter, laam is a letter and meem is a letter." (Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi, cited here 

So this way, Allah is giving us more Quranic verses to read, and therefore, we have a greater opportunity to receive a greater reward.

A third reason for the wisdom is the example of alcohol prohibition. When we read the Quran, we can see the wisdom of how Islam came to gradually change the people. We should also learn how to implement this in our lives, not to try to change over a day's time but to change ourselves gradually. We can see this wisdom by reading these verses from the Quran today, and we can see that the Quran was revealed with wisdom. 

Other reasons are that it is Allah testing those who claim to believe to also believe in what He changes of the Quran, which is His word. This is to make us feel humble by making us realize that nothing is in our hands and to praise the believers of before who adhered to the change without hesitation. This also lets us know that believers accept everything from Allah and that we have generations before us who fully support the revelation.

One may also ask, "What is the wisdom behind abrogating the recitation of a verse but upholding its injunction?" (e.g., verse on stoning)

This is because the Sunnah is just like the Quran in that both are revelations and equal authority (not holiness). The Sunnah is also the actual law, and this is a test to those who claim to believe in Allah; they must believe in the Sunnah, too, and it takes the place of the Quran in many areas. See here for proof of the necessity of following Sunnah. 

Finally, one may also ask, what is the wisdom behind abrogating both the recitation and injunction of a Quranic verse? (e.g. verse on ten sucklings)

Allah has decided from the beginning that it is only good for the early generation of Muslims to receive this Quranic command, and it was not meant to be a permanent ruling for all Muslim generations to come.

Basically, it was better for those people at that time and for certain individuals with a strong faith but not as a race of people. Their test was different because God said He would bring something better: 

Surah 2:106

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgottenbut We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that God Hath power over all things? 

So, basically, the verses whose recitation and injunction have both been abrogated have been made to be forgotten. God, with his wisdom, knows that He can substitute something like it or something better than it for certain different people. 

The Seven Modes of Recitation 

The Seven Ahruf (modes of recitation) are part of Islamic doctrine, and a Muslim must accept them. 

Saheeh Bukhari

Volume 6, Book 61, Number 513:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Abbas:

Allah's Apostle said, "Gabriel recited the Qur'an to me in one way. Then I requested him (to read it in another way), and continued asking him to recite it in other ways, and he recited it in several ways till he ultimately recited it in seven different ways."

Volume 6, Book 61, Number 514:

Narrated 'Umar bin Al-Khattab:

I heard Hisham bin Hakim reciting Surat Al-Furqan during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle and I listened to his recitation and noticed that he recited in several different ways which Allah's Apostle had not taught me. I was about to jump over him during his prayer, but I controlled my temper, and when he had completed his prayer, I put his upper garment around his neck and seized him by it and said, "Who taught you this Sura which I heard you reciting?" He replied, "Allah's Apostle taught it to me." I said, "You have told a lie, for Allah's Apostle has taught it to me in a different way from yours." So I dragged him to Allah's Apostle and said (to Allah's Apostle),

"I heard this person reciting Surat Al-Furqan in a way which you haven't taught me!" On that Allah's Apostle said, "Release him, (O 'Umar!) Recite, O Hisham!" Then he recited in the same way as I heard him reciting. Then Allah's Apostle said, "It was revealed in this way," and added, "Recite, O 'Umar!" I recited it as he had taught me. Allah's Apostle then said, "It was revealed in this way. This Qur'an has been revealed to be recited in seven different ways, so recite of it whichever (way) is easier for you (or read as much of it as may be easy for you)."

Volume 006, Book 061, Hadith Number 582.

Narated By Abdullah : That he heard a man reciting a Qur'anic Verse which he had heard the Prophet reciting in a different way. So he took that man to the Prophet (and told him the story). The Prophet said, "Both of you are reciting in a correct way, so carry on reciting." The Prophet further added, "The nations which were before you were destroyed (by Allah) because they differed."

See the commentaries for these hadith here

Saheeh Muslim

Book 004, Number 1782:

'Umar b. Khattab said: I heard Hisham b. Hakim b. Hizam reciting Surah al-Furqan in a style different from that in which I used to recite it, and in which Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) had taught me to recite it. I was about to dispute with him (on this style) but I delayed till he had finished that (the recitation). Then I caught hold of his cloak and brought him to the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and said: Messenger of Allah, I heard this man reciting Surah al-Furqan in a style different from the one in which you taught me to recite. Upon this the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) told (me) to leave him alone and asked him to recite. He then recited in the style in which I beard him recite it. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) then said: Thus was it sent down. He then told me to recite and I recited it, and he said: Thus was it sent down. The Qur'an was sent down in seven dialects. So recite what seems easy therefrom. 

Book 004, Number 1784:

This hadith has been transmitted by Zuhri.

Book 004, Number 1785:

Ibn 'Abbas reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Gabriel taught me to recite in one style. I replied to him and kept asking him to give more (styles), till he reached seven modes (of recitation). Ibn Shibab said: It has reached me that these seven styles are essentially one, not differing about what is permitted and what is forbidden.

Book 004, Number 1787:

Ubayy b. Ka'b reported: I was in the mosque when a man entered and prayed and recited (the Qur'in) in a style to which I objected. Then another man entered (the mosque) and recited in a style different from that of his companion. When we had finished the prayer, we all went to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said to him: This man recited in a style to which I objected, and the other entered and recited in a style different from that of his companion. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) asked them to recite and so they recited, and the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) expressed approval of their affairs (their modes of recitation). and there occurred In my mind a sort of denial which did not occur even during the Days of Ignorance. When the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) saw how I was affected (by a wrong idea), he struck my chest, whereupon I broke into sweating and felt as though I were looking at Allah with fear. He (the Holy Prophet) said to me: Ubayy. a message was sent to me to recite the Qur'an in one dialect, and I replied: Make (things) easy for my people. It was conveyed to me for the second time that it should be recited in two dialects. I again replied to him: Make affairs easy for my people. It was again conveyed to me for the third time to recite in seven dialects And (I was further told): You have got a seeking for every reply that I sent you, which you should seek from Me. I said: O Allah! forgive my people, forgive my people, and I have deferred the third one for the day on which the entire creation will turn to me, including even Ibrahim (peace be upon him) (for intercession).

Book 004, Number 1789:

Ubayy b. Ka'b reported that the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) was near the tank of Banu Ghifar that Gabriel came to him and said: Allah has commanded you to recite to your people the Qur'an in one dialect. Upon this he said: I ask from Allah pardon and forgiveness. My people are not capable of doing it. He then came for the second time and said: Allah has commanded you that you should recite the Qur'an to your people in two dialects. Upon this he (the Holy prophet) again said: I seek pardon and forgiveness from Allah, my people would not be able to do so. He (Gabriel) came for the third time and said: Allah has commanded you to recite the Qur'an to your people in three dialects. Upon this he said: I ask pardon and forgiveness from Allah. My people would not be able to do it. He then came to him for the fourth time and said: Allah has commanded you to recite the Qur'an to your people in seven dialects, and in whichever dialect they would recite, they would be right.

See the commentaries for these hadith here

Malik's Muwatta

Book 15, Number 15.4.5:

Yahya related to me from Malik from Ibn Shihab from Urwa ibn az-Zubayr that Abd ar-Rahman ibn Abd al-Qari said that he had heard Umar ibn al-Khattab say, "I heard Hisham ibn Hakim ibn Hizam reciting Surat al-Furqan (Sura 25) differently from me, and it was the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who had recited it to me. I was about to rush up to him but I granted him a respite until he had finished his prayer. Then I grabbed him by his cloak and took him to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, 'Messenger of Allah, I heard this man reciting Surat al-Furqan differently from the way you recited it to me.' The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'Let him go.' Then he said, 'Recite, Hisham,' and Hisham recited as I had heard him recite. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'It was sent down like that.' Then he said to me, 'Recite' and I recited the sura, and he said, 'It was sent down like that. This Qur'an was sent down in seven (different) ways, so recite from it whatever is easy for you .' "

See the commentary for this hadith here

More hadith related to the Seven Ahruf could be found in Sunan Abu Dawud, Kitab Al Salah, Bab: Anzala Al Quran Fi Saba'at Ahruf, Hadith no.1261,1262 &1262. (Source) 

Scholars still have not come to a consensus regarding what these Seven Ahruf are. Some said the Quran was revealed in seven different ways (not all the verses, only some), with synonyms replacing certain words. For example, besides saying "ehdina al sirat al mustaqeem" in one harf it would read "arshudna al sirat al mustaqeem" and they would both mean the same thing, which is "Guide us unto the right path". It seems to me that this is the strongest opinion as to what the seven ahruf are. 

Also, the ten Qira'at are the different ways of reciting the Quran, which (according to the strongest opinion of the scholars) contain parts of the seven ahruf in them. It is also very important to mention that these Qira'at have MUTAWATTIR NARRATIONS GOING STRAIGHT BACK TO THE COMPANIONS OF THE PROPHET, which means that the Prophet approved of them. Once we have strong evidence, as we do now, knowing that the Prophet approved of them, then that is enough for the Muslims to know that they are all good and divinely accepted. 

If one properly understands the concept of the seven ahruf and the Qira'at, one would conclude that the Quran is indeed a great miracle. It proves even more that the Prophet (peace be upon him) could not have authored such a book. Read more here.

When one studies the concept of the seven ahruf and Qira'at you will indeed find that scholars are not forming a consensus regarding what the seven ahruf are exactly. However, at the end of the day, one thing that the scholars do have a consensus on is the fact that all of the readings that we have today are indeed CONFIRMED BY THE PROPHET, AND THIS IS BACKED UP BY MUTAWATTIR NARRATIONS GOING BACK TO HIM AND HIS COMPANIONS, and that is good enough for the Muslim. 

I will not write about them in detail because there are already excellent articles available about them. If you want to fully understand this issue, then you must read all the following links. 




One must fully understand these concepts to be able to respond to attacks against Islam regarding this issue and make them understand that this is part of our religion and show them the wisdom behind it. Don't let Christian missionaries fool you by letting them say, "Well, we won't criticize your variants if you don't criticize ours," because this comparison is fallacious. Their variants are due to forgeries being inserted into the text and scribal errors, and this is unlike Islam, which confirms that these variants are a part of our religion confirmed by the Prophet (peace be upon him), and there is great wisdom behind it.



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