How the Quranic Recital of Hafs from Asim Became Mainstream

By Muhammad Sunni1

The Quranic recital (qira’ah) that is widespread today in most of the Islamic world, except the Islamic Maghreb, Somalia, Sudan, and some regions of Yemen, is the reading of Hafs from the narration of Asim. However, the question arises: when and why did the narration of Hafs from Asim spread in all these countries?

The truth is that this did not happen until the beginning of the tenth hijri century due to the influence of the Ottoman Empire. This was because most of the scholars of the Ottoman state in Turkey were Hanafis, and they were known to follow the narration of Hafs from Asim in the recitation of the Quran. From the beginning, it was ensured that the imams of the mosques were those who followed the Hanafi school and recited by the recital of Hafs from Asim. This practice also extended to the two holy mosques and most other mosques, including the judges, most of whom were from the school of Abu Hanifa, who only read by the recital of Hafs from Asim. This indirect policy of imposing and spreading the narration of Hafs from Asim later found its way into Qur’an printing presses, where only the codices (mushaf) with the narration of Hafs from Asim were printed.

Before this, the mainstream reading until the time of Ibn al-Jazari, and a little after him, was the reading of Abu Amr ibn al-Ala. We read in Ghayat al-Nihaya by Ibn al-Jazari (vol. 1, Chapter of Zay):

Ibn Mujahid said, and they told us about Wahb ibn Jarir who said: Shu’bah told me: Hold on to the reading of Abu Amr, for it will become a reference for people.

Muhammad ibn Isa ibn Hayyan also told me: Nasr ibn Ali said: My father told me: Look at what Abu Amr chooses for himself, for it will become a reference for people. Nasr said: I asked my father: How do you read? He said: According to the reading of Abu Amr. I asked Al-Asma’i: How do you read? He said: According to the reading of Abu Amr. I said: And what Shu’bah – may Allah have mercy on him – said has come true, for the reading that people follow today in Sham, Hijaz, Yemen, and Egypt is the reading of Abu Amr, and you hardly find anyone teaching the Quran except in his particular way, though they may err in the basics. (The people of) Sham used to read by the recital of Ibn Amir until around 500 AH, then they abandoned that because someone came from the people of Iraq and was teaching people in the Umayyad Mosque according to the reading of Abu Amr, so a crowd gathered around him, and this reading became famous from him and it stayed for years like that, as I was told, otherwise, I do not know the reason for the people of Sham turning away from the reading of Ibn Amir and taking up the reading of Abu Amr, and I consider that one of Shu’bah’s karamaat.

Then the Ottomans came, and the recital of Hafs from Asim spread at the beginning of the tenth hijri century. We read what Ibn Abidin (d. 1252 AH) said in his annotation (vol. 1, Book of Prayer, Chapter on Reading):

(His saying ‘with a strange recital’) means recitals linked to strange reports and inclinations (imalaat) because some fools say what they do not know and fall into sin and misery. It is not appropriate for the imams to lead the common people to what diminishes their religion, and they should not read the recitation of Abu Ja’far, Ibn Amir, Ali ibn Hamzah, and al-Kisai to protect their religion. Perhaps they will take it lightly or laugh, even though all the recitals and readings are correct and authentic. Our scholars chose the reading of Abu Amr and Hafs from Asim.

We also read what al-Mar’ashi (d. 1150 Hijri) said in Juhd al-Muqill (pg. 320):

The teacher of recitation should tell the student: Some letters of the Qur’an have differences among the scholars of recitations, and I will teach you the reading of Shaykh so-and-so. I say: What is adopted in our lands is the reading of Asim and the narration of Hafs from him.

We also read from the book Introductions to the Science of Readings about the Quranic readings in our present era:

The spread of the readings recited in the Islamic world:

The readings of the ten Imams were widespread in the Islamic regions, with the people of each region and its surroundings reading by their Imam’s reading, and this continued for centuries. Al-Dani mentioned that the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Basra only read by the reading of Ya’qub, and the people of Egypt used to read by the narration of Warsh until the fifth hijri century, then the reading of Abu Amr al-Basri spread among them. It seems that this situation continued for some time after that until the Ottoman Empire extended its rule to the Arab countries in the tenth hijri century, and the narration of Hafs from Asim spread in most of the Islamic world since that time due to the Ottoman state’s adoption of it, then the printing of the Mushaf with it, and it spread more in our time due to the abundance of Mushaf printed with it, and the spread of recordings and through radios and various media.

So, the narration of Hafs from Asim is recited by most Muslims in Islamic and other countries. The narration of Qalun from Nafi’ is recited in Libya and parts of Tunisia and Algeria. The narration of Warsh from Nafi’ is recited in western Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, and most of the western African countries, and in the north and west of Sudan. The narration of Al-Duri from Abu Amr is recited in Sudan, Somalia, and Hadramaut in Yemen.

The truth is that the Ottomans’ spread of the recital of Hafs from Asim during this period encountered great ease, and perhaps the main reason for that is the beginning of the weakness of the Muslims and their neglect of the science of recitals (qira’at) in the eleventh and twelfth centuries hijri, as there was no one since Ibn al-Jazari who followed the recitals and adhered to criticism and modification and produced biographies of the readers of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries hijri, or investigated their readings and the chain of their narrations. From such a situation, the narration of Hafs from Asim was gradually imposed and spread with ease.

We read what Khalil Ibrahim al-Daradkeh said in his thesis presented at Al-Balqa’ Applied University in Jordan titled The History of the Qur`anic Readings in the Arabian Peninsula (chp. 3, pg. 26):

This phase of the stages of Quranic readings in the Arabian Peninsula can be confined from the end of the ninth century and the beginning of the tenth hijri century to our present day, and perhaps the most appropriate definition for it is to be associated with the beginnings of the Ottoman rule of the Islamic world…

Ibn al-Jazari died in the ninth century and said: The reading in his era in Sham, Hijaz, Yemen, and Egypt was the recital of al-Duri from Abu Amr. At that time, the Ottoman state began to extend its authority over most parts of the Islamic world, and the recital of Hafs from Asim spread among the Turks. It was said that the reason for choosing this recital was that Abu Hanifa was Kufan, and Asim was Kufan, and since the Ottomans were Hanafis, they chose the recital of the narration of Hafs from Asim. It was also said that the reason goes back to the printing of the Mushaf, which was the most suitable recital in accordance with the printing press at that time. The conclusion of the research leads to the fact that the Ottoman state, which began its rule in 922 AH, was interested in the recital of Hafs from Asim.

When researching the conditions of that era, it appears that there is a consensus among historians that the decline and weakness of the pursuit of knowledge prevailed in that era, without investigating its causes and forms. The first evidence of the shift to the narration of Hafs from Asim after the death of Ibn al-Jazari and the Ottomans taking over the reins of power is that Muhammad ibn Badr al-Din al-Munshi al-Rumi al-Hanafi composed his interpretation in 981 AH with the recital of Hafs, indicating its spread after the era of Ibn al-Jazari…

The Ottoman state published the printed Mushaf corresponding to the narration of Hafs in the Islamic countries, so the narration of Hafs from Asim gradually replaced the narration of al-Duri from Abu Amr until the people of Mecca and Medina in the eleventh century were on the narration of Hafs from Asim. This was also contributed to by the Ottomans’ choice of the imams of the two holy mosques who followed the state’s approach, among them, for example, Muhammad ibn Badr al-Din, known as Muhyi al-Din, famous as al-Munshi al-Rumi al-Aqhisari al-Hanafi, the interpreter, who was one of the most distinguished scholars and researchers…

And the conclusion of the research and consideration of this period, which spans about five centuries, reveals that it can be divided into two halves. In its first half, which is more than two centuries, ignorance prevailed and authorship stagnated, and foreignness increased compared to the past centuries. During it, the widespread recital remained those that were famous before the tenth Hijri century, at the forefront of which was the reading of Abu Amr from the narration of al-Duri. As for the second half of this period, specifically in the last two hundred years from our day, the reading that spread was what was by the narration of Hafs from Asim.

The truth must be said that there is a lump in the heart and throat from the way the Ottomans spread the recital of Hafs from Asim in clear opposition to the efforts of the scholars of recital who preceded them, such as Ibn al-Jazari, al-Sakhawi, Abu Shama al-Andarabi, al-Dani, Makki, Ibn Mujahid, Abu Ubayd, and many others.


  1. Around 3 or 4 years ago, I engaged in a lengthy discussion on a WhatsApp group called ILM where some of the brothers – who are currently part of the Islaah group – were discussing a matter related to the Quran. In that group one of the objections I raised to them during the discussion was about the Qira’at (recitals) of the Qur’an, that they are solitary reports, thereby speculative (dhanni). I also brought up the point that the Qira’ah of Hafs from Asim is a relatively recent phenomenon, due to the Ottoman empire, and even going as far as to translation sections of Ibn Mujahid’s work Kitāb al-Sabʿa fī al-Qirāʾāt.

    This short post is written by this author, who is an independent Sunni researcher and blogger whose posts are generally related to responding to doubts against Islam and matters related to the Quran. In this short post he summarizes his points very briefly, but in a clear manner, hence why I wanted to publish its translation. Facebook Source | Blog Source.