Significance of the Seven Forms and The Dialect of the Quraysh
Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips
Taken from Usool At-Tafseer The Methodology of Qur'anic Interpretation, pp. 182-184
The revelation of the Qur'an in seven different dialects made its recitation and memorization much easier for the various tribes. For example, the phrase, "'alayhim" (on them), was read by some as "'alayhumoo," and the word "siraat" (path, bridge), was read by some as "siraat" and by others as "ziraat," and the word "mu'min" (believer) was also read as "moomin" As a result, a greater number of the Prophet's followers were able to memorize large portions of the Qur'aan while the Prophet (peace be upon him) was still alive. Since the majority of the Arabs could neither read nor write and most of the Qur'aan was preserved during the Prophet's lifetime by memorization, any factor which eased its memorization was of great importance. Hence, it could be said that the revelation of the Qur'an in seven forms played a vital role in the actual preservation of the Qur'aan. It should also be noted that during the compilation of the Qur'aan after the Prophet's death, the only means of verifying the correctness of what had been written of the Qur'aan during the Prophet's lifetime was by comparing it with what had been memorized. Hence, the more people who were able to memorize it, the more accurately it could be complied and verified. Consequently, the ease in memorization also played a key role in the accurate compilation of the Qur'aan.
In many places in the Qur'aan, Allah challenged the Arabs of that time to produce a chapter similar to even its smallest chapter. The inability to imitate the Qur'aan's style was a miracle which proved that the Qur'an had to be from Allah. This miracle became even more obvious when none of the seven major tribes could imitate it even in their own dialects, as no one could claim that it was difficult to imitate due to it not being in their own dialect.
The Dialect of the Quraysh
The Qur'aann continued to be read according to the seven forms until midway through Caliph Uthmaan's rule, when some confusion arose in other outlying provinces concerning the Qur'aan's recitation. Some Arabic tribes had begun to boast about the superiority of their readings and a rivalry began to develop. At the same time, some new Muslims also began mixing the various forms out of ignorance. Caliph Uthmaan decided to make official copies of the Qur'aan according to the dialect of Quraysh and send them along with the Qur'aanic reciters to the major centers of Islam. This decision was approved by all of the sahaabah, and all unofficial copies of the Qur'aan were destroyed. Following the distribution of the unofficial copies, all the other dialects were dropped and the Qur'aan began to be read in only one dialect. Thus, the Qur'aan which is available throughout the world today is written and recited only according to the dialect of the Quraysh. (This is the opinion of a group of scholars. Others maintain that some aspects of the different dialects have been preserved in the varying qiraa'aat, but only those which are reconcilable with the Uthmaanee Mus-haf. They say the sahaabaah wrote the Uthmaanee Mus-haf in such a way as to maximize the number of ahruf compatible with it. As-Suyootee, Ibn Hajar and Ibn al-Jazaree all supported the second opinion and attributed it to the majority of scholars. See al-Itqaan, vol. 1, p. 142, and Ma' al-Masaahif, p. 34)
The discontinuance of the other six forms does not in any way represent a loss of any part of the Qur'aan. The sahaabah were given the option by the Prophet (peace be upon him) to recite the Qur'aan in any of the seven dialects they wished because the meaning was the same and the variations were synonymous; and it is they who unanimously decided to discontinue the use of the other six. Such a decision could not have been unanimously decided to discontinue the use of the other six. Such a decision could not have been unanimously approved if it in any way entailed the loss of even the smallest part of the Qur'aan. Thus, the Qur'aan according to the Qurayshee dialect is, without doubt, a perfect and complete compilation of Allah's revealed word to the last of His prophets and messengers, Muhammad (peace be upon him).
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