One of the most extensive and important discussions within Qurānic studies is regarding its variant readings (qirā’āt). The readings are generally discussed within commentaries themselves and even within historical discussions regarding the collection and transmission of the Qurān. Utilizing a 25-page research paper titled Rawish Shināsi Ruyikard ‘Allāmeh Ṭabāṭabā’ī Dar Ikhtilāf Qirā’āt by Muḥamad Khāmehgar of Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, we will look at how ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī treats these different readings in his seminal work Tafsīr al-Mīzān.
‘Allāmah discusses or points out differences in readings in around 160 places. These remarks include the following:
- Differences in vowels and diacritics on words: 72 times
- Differences in the type of letters or their quantity: 42 times
- Differences in the formation of a word, or in its root-word, or in it being singular or plural, or in it being in passive or active voice, or which paradigm from thulāthī mazīd the word is from: 36 times
- Differences in one or more words being extra: 4 times
- Differences in a word present in a place of another word: 6 times
- Differences in a word missing: 0 times
- Differences in words being moved around: 0 times
- Differences in a sentence being added or removed: 0 times
In the first 3 cases, there is no discrepency between the text of the codex and its recitation. However, in the fourth case when there is an extra word in one of the recitations, ‘Allāmah either rejects it – like in the case of (8:1) يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْأَنفَالِ which has also been recited as يَسْأَلُونَكَ الْأَنفَال, or he considers it to be an exegesis done in the middle of the verse like in the case of:
(20:15) إِنَّ السَّاعَةَ آتِيَةٌ أَكَادُ أُخْفِيهَا لِتُجْزَىٰ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا تَسْعَىٰ It has been reported that Ibn ‘Abbās and Imām al-Ṣādiq (a) recited the verse as follows: أَكَادُ أُخْفِيهَا عن نفسي. ‘Allāmah considers this addition to be a commentary.
In the fifth case where a word is present in place of another word, ‘Allāmah considers five of those instances to be commentaries. One of those instances is a recitation attributed to Ibn ‘Umar, which ‘Allāmah considers to be made up by Ibn ‘Umar himself. The verse is:
(65:1) يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِذَا طَلَّقْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَطَلِّقُوهُنَّ لِعِدَّتِهِنَّ where Ibn ‘Umar replaced the preposition li on ‘iddatihinna and replaced it with a fi qabl:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِذَا طَلَّقْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَطَلِّقُوهُنَّ في قبل عِدَّتِهِنَّ.
The Reading of Ḥafṣ from ‘Āṣim
Some Qurān experts – such as Āyatullah Hādi Ma’rifat (d. 2007) – believe that the only reading that has a sound chain of transmission and all the Muslims have considered it reliable is the reading of Ḥafṣ. Ḥafṣ learned the reading from his teacher ‘Āṣim who learned it from Abū ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (d. 74 AH) who took it from Imām ‘Alī (a). They say that this reading is not based on the personal ijtihād of Ḥafṣ rather it was passed down to him through a transmission which is directly connected to Imām ‘Alī (a) and ultimately the Prophet (p).
How strong the argument of the aforementioned scholars is can be investigated in a different article altogether, but what is important to note here is that ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabāī considered the reading of Ḥafṣ like the rest of the readings. He did not believe this reading to have any preference over the other recitations and considers it to be ijtihādī like the rest of them. He simply deems the reading of Ḥafṣ to be the popular reading but did not believe that going against it implies going against the recitation of the Prophet (p) or the Imām (a).
Although, we cannot deny that the primary reading employed by ‘Allāmah in his al-Mīzān is that of Ḥafṣ’, he has not preferred this reading over the rest of them in every case. We will look at some of these cases where ‘Allāmah preferred the reading of Ḥafṣ over other recitations and what he based his preference on, as well as cases where he preferred another reading over that of Ḥafṣ’ and what he based his preference on.
Preference of Ḥafṣ Over Other Readings
In some cases, ‘Allāmah prefers Ḥafṣ over other recitations, not due to the popularity or probative force of the reading, but due to other specified reasons.
1) In (2:222) وَلَا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطْهُرْنَ, ‘Allamah prefers the pronunciation Yaṭhurna يَطْهُرْنَ – which happens to be the popular reading – over Yaṭṭahurna يَطَّهُرْنَ which was how the people of Kūfa recited it, except Ḥafṣ. The reason for this preference is a number of traditions that imply that the recitation is Yaṭhurna, instead of Yaṭṭahurna.
2) In (2:260) فَخُذْ أَرْبَعَةً مِّنَ الطَّيْرِ فَصُرْهُنَّ إِلَيْكَ, the word fa-ṣurhunna has been recited in two ways. The famous recitation of it is fa-ṣurhunna فَصُرْهُنَّ, whereas Abū Ja’far, Ḥamzah, Khalaf and Ruways who narrates from Ya’qūb have all recited this word as fa-ṣirhunna. ‘Allāmah says since this word, when pronounced with a ḍammah, means to cut or chop, but when the preposition ila follows this transitive verb it also take into consideration the meaning of calling something towards oneself.
3) In (10:21) إِنَّ رُسُلَنَا يَكْتُبُونَ مَا تَمْكُرُونَ, the word tamkurūn تَمْكُرُونَ has been recited as yamkurūn يَمْكُرُونَ by some reciters like Zayd who took from Ya’qūb and Sahl. ‘Allāmah prefers the popular recitation citing the concept of grammatical shift (iltifāt) in the Qurān and says that the popular recitation is more eloquent with respect to the meaning intended.
Preference of Other Readings Over Ḥafṣ
‘Allāmah’s approach to the different readings of the Qurān and preferring one reading over the other is based on the siyāq (loosely translated as context) of the verses, contextual indicators from the aḥādīth literature, grammatical rules and as well as other factors. That being the case, in some instances we find ‘Allāmah preferring the reading of a reciter other than that of Ḥafṣ’. What is interesting to note is that in no instance does ‘Allāmah say that the meaning signified in the reading of Ḥafṣ is necessarily wrong or incorrect, rather he simply believes that the other recitation is better and more harmonious. As a matter of fact, in one case he even says that both recitations are perfectly correct.
At times we find that ‘Allāmah prefers the readings of one of the 7 famous reciters over Ḥafṣ while other times we find him to prefer the readings of one of the non-famous reciters over Ḥafṣ.
The 7-famous reciters are:
- ‘Abdullah b. ‘Āmir al-Dimashqī (d. 118 AH)
- ‘Abdullah b. Kathīr al-Makkī (d. 120 AH)
- Āṣim b. Bahdalah (d.127 AH) – whose main transmitter was Ḥafṣ
- Abū ‘Amr b. ‘Alā (d. 154 AH)
- Ḥamzah al-Kūfī (d.156 AH)
- Nāfi’ al-Madanī (d. 169 AH)
- al-Kisāī (d. 189 AH)
Some cases where ‘Allāmah prefers one of these reciters over Āsim’s are as follows:
1) Āṣim and Kisāī have recited the word mālik مَالِك in (1:4) مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ with an alif, whereas the rest of the reciters have recited it without an alif – as malik مَلِك. ‘Allāmah prefers the recitation of malik over mālik because it has been added on to a concept of time – yawm al-dīn.
2) In (8:59) وَلَا يَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا سَبَقُوا ۚ إِنَّهُمْ لَا يُعْجِزُونَ the verb la yaḥsabanna لا يَحْسَبَنَّ has been recited with a yā in third-person, but Ibn Kathīr, Abū ‘Amr, Nāfi’ and Kisāī have read it with a tā which would make it a second-person verb. ‘Allāmah prefers the second-person reading not only because it is more popular, but also due to the context of the verses after this one, as they are addressing the Prophet (p).
3) Regarding (48:9) لِّتُؤْمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَتُعَزِّرُوهُ وَتُوَقِّرُوهُ وَتُسَبِّحُوهُ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلًا, ‘Allāmah says that the popular recitation of this verse pronounces all the present/future-tense verbs in second-person with a tā, but Ibn Kathīr and Abū ‘Amr have recited it in third-person with a yā. He says that the reading of the latter two is more appropriate since it is in line with the context of the verse.
In some cases, we find ‘Allāmah preferring the reading of one of the non-famous reciters over that of Ḥafṣ’. For example, in (26:13) وَيَضِيقُ صَدْرِي وَلَا يَنطَلِقُ لِسَانِي all the 7 famous reciters read the words yaḍīqu يَضِيقُ and yanṭaliqu يَنْطَلِقُ in the state of raf’ with a ḍamma, however Ya’qūb b. Isḥāq recites these two verbs in the state of naṣb with a fatḥa (يَضِيقَ and يَنْطَلِقَ). ‘Allāmah prefers the recitation of Ya’qūb because it is more in line with the meaning intended.
Not Preferring any Reading Over Another
In a majority of cases ‘Allāmah does not prefer one reading over another. Instead, he reiterates that both recitals are correct and justifiable. This also implies that ‘Allāmah does not restrict himself to the recitation of Ḥafṣ in his commentary simply because it happens to be a popular reading or go out of his way to invalidate other recitations simply because they aren’t popular. In fact, it shows that ‘Allāmah considered other recitations to be just as valid and strong as the recitation of Ḥafṣ.
As an example, in (2:37) فَتَلَقَّىٰ آدَمُ مِن رَّبِّهِ كَلِمَاتٍ Ibn Kathīr recites Ādam in a state of naṣb and Kalimāt in a state of raf’, while Ibn ‘Āmir recites it the opposite way. ‘Allāmah cites both recitations and does not prefer one over another and says that the meaning will remain the same in either case.
In (2:126) قَالَ وَمَن كَفَرَ فَأُمَتِّعُهُ قَلِيلًا, the word umatti’uhu which is on the paradigm of taf’īl, has also been recited as umti’uhu on the paradigm of if’āl. Since both tamtī’ and imtā’ have the same meaning, he refrains from preferring one over the other.
In (26:36) قَالُوا أَرْجِهْ وَأَخَاهُ, the word arjih أرْجِهْ has been recited as 1) arji’hu أرْجِئهُ with a hamzah between the jīm and the pronoun hā and with a ḍammah on the hā, 2) the people of Medīna and Kisāī and Khalaf recited it as arjihi أرْجِهِ without a hamzah and with a kasra on the hā, and 3) Āṣim and Ḥamzah recited it as arjih أرْجِهْ without a hamzah, but with a sukūn on the hā.
After mentioning all the different recitations for this word, ‘Allāmah says that the first two recitations are more eloquent than the third recitation which happens to be the popular one, although all three recitations have the same meaning.
In other situations, we find ‘Allāmah not commenting on the different readings at all. Perhaps this was done simply to point the reader to the fact that there exists another recitation that is equally strong and justifiable as Ḥafṣ’. Or perhaps he may have felt that the recitation of Ḥafṣ in a particular verse was not as strong, but did not find enough reason to prefer any of the other recitations over it either. For example, in (2:283) وَلَمْ تَجِدُوا كَاتِبًا فَرِهَانٌ مَّقْبُوضَةٌ he says that the word rihān in this verse has also been pronounced as ruhun which is the plural for rahn. Both words have the same meaning and ‘Allāmah refrains from commenting on them any further.
In some cases, even though ‘Allāmah has not preferred any recitation over another, he has made use of the difference in reading to expand on the meaning of the verse. Regarding verse (2:219) يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ ۖ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ he writes that the word kabīr (great) has also been recited as kathīr (a lot). When explaining the harms of alcohol and gambling he says that their harms are both great and a lot.
When it comes to the numerous reports in which a recitation has been attributed to one of the Imāms (a), ‘Allāmah takes the same approach as he does with the other readings. If these traditions and the readings do not meet the criteria for acceptance, they are not to be taken. He writes that the Shī’a do not consider rare readings to be probative, even if they are attributed to the Imāms. When it comes to traditions that attribute a certain way of reading to the Imāms (a), he divides these set of traditions into two, narrations that are specifically a reading of a verse, and narrations that are exegetical.
Narrations that are specifically a reading of a verse are traditions that are in line with the text of the Qurānic codex and rules of grammar. The readings of the text themselves are then either in accordance with one of the famous readings or against them. Traditions in which these readings are not the same as any of the famous readings are either those in which either the vowel placement is different or the letters of a word is different or something similar to that extent. In these cases, ‘Allāmah treats these readings like the rest of the famous recitations and puts them to the same standard of scrutiny before preferring one over another.
As an example, in (13:31) أَفَلَمْ يَيْأَسِ, the famous recitation is a fa lam yay’as, but it has been reported that Imām ‘Alī (a), Ibn ‘Abbās, ‘Alī b. al-Ḥusayn (a), Zayd b. ‘Alī, Ja’far b. Muḥammad (a), Ibn Abī Malīkah and Abū Yazīd al-Madanī all recited it as a fa lam yatabayyan. However, ‘Allāmah says that the famous and accepted recitation is a fa lam yay’as.
In a subsequent post, we will look at the role of these different readings and how ‘Allāmah used them to either defend his own interpretation or at times allow multiple meanings for a given verse.
 Al-Mīzān, vol. 7, pg. 271
 Ibid, vol. 2, pg. 322
 Ṭabrasī, Majma’ al-Bayān, vol. 2, pg. 642
 Al-Mīzān, vol. 2, pg. 375
 Ṭabrasī, vol. 5, pg. 151
 Al-Mīzān, vol. 10, pg. 49
 Ibid, vol. 1, pg. 204
 Ibid, vol. 1, pg. 33 and 142
 Ibid, vol. 9, pg. 150
 Ibid, vol. 18, pg. 408
 Ibid, vol. 15, pg. 360
 Ibid, vol. 1, pg. 204
 Ibid, vol. 1, pg. 426
 Ibid, vol. 15, pg. 382
 Ibid, vol. 2, pg. 668
 Ibid, vol. 2, pg. 289
 Ibid, vol. 4, pg. 476
 Ibid, vol. 11, pg. 505
Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.