Understanding the Text


The growth and development of the Muslim umma is marked by two great phases:

- The period in Makka, before the hijra (A.D. 622).
- The period in Madina, after the hijra.

Naturally the revelation from Allah to guide the Muslims
also responded, to some extent, to these particular situations.

The Makkan Phase

The Makkan phase of the revelation lasted about 13 years,
from the first revelation up to the hijra.

This phase is determined by the prime task of the Prophet
to call people to Islam. The main themes of this call, based on
the Qur'anic reve!ation are:

- Allah and His unity (tawhid).
- The coming resurrection and judgement.
- Righteous conduct.

The role of the Prophet in this phase is in particular that of
an announcer and warner.

The Madinan Phase

The Madinan phase lasted about ten years, from the hijra to
the death of the Prophet. While the basic themes of the
Makkan phase remain, the factor of the Muslims' growing
together into a community and the formation of the umma,
now makes its presence clearly felt.

In Madina, there are four groups of people to be met:

- The mujajirun, who migrated from Makka to Madina.
- The ansar, who originated from Madina and helped the
- The munafiqun, who are from Madina and pretended to
  support the Muslims.
- The ahl al-kitab, i.e. Jews and Christians, with their
  respective scriptures.

In addition to these the Qur'an also continued to address
al-nas, 'mankind' i.e. all people, and referred to the dis-
believers and ignorant ones.

Makkan and Madinan Suras

Suras of the Qur'an have also been classified, according to
their origin, into Makkan and Madinan suras.

A sura is said to be of Makkan origin, when its beginning
was revealed in the Makkan phase, even if it contains verses
from Madina.

A sura is said to be of Madinan origin, when its beginning
was revealed in the Madinan phase, even if it has verses from
the Makkan period in its text. '

The following 85 suras are, according to Zarkashi, (2) of Mak-
kan origin:

  96, 68, 73, 74, 111, 81, 87, 92, 89, 93, 94, 103, 100,
  108, 102, 107, 109, 105,113,114,112,53,80,97,91,85,95,
  106,101,75, 104,77,50,90,86,54,38,7,72,36,25,35, 19,20,
  56,26,27, 28, 17, 10,11,12,15,6,37,31,34,39,40,41,42,43,
  44,45,46, 51,88, 18, 16,71, 14,21,23,32,52,67,69,70,78,

1 Mabani, in GdQ, 1, p.59.
2 Zarkashi, B.: Al-burhan fi'ulumal-qur'an, Cairo, 1958,Vol. 1,p.l93.

There is a difference of opinion as to what was last revealed
in Makka. Some say, following Ibn 'Abbas, that it was Sura 29
(al-ankabut); others say Sura 23 (al-mu'minun); still others
say Sura 83 (al-mutaffifin). Some believe that Sura 83 is
actually Madinan.

The following 29 suras are, according to Zarkashi, (3) of
Madinan origin:


Some hold that Sura 1 (al-fatiha) is of Makkan, others that
it is of Madinan, origin.

The Makkan suras constitute about 11, and the Madinan
about 19 juz' of the text.

>From the above division it is obvious that the Madinan
suras are the longer ones and comprise a much larger part of
the Qur'an.


According to a list based upon Nu'man b. Bashlr and given
in the fihrist of al-Nadim, (4) the chronological order of the
revelation of the suras is as follows:

96, 68, 73, 74, 111, 81, 94, 103, 89, 93, 92, 100, 108, 102, 107,
109, 105, 112,113,114,53,80,97,91,85,95,106,101,75,104,
77,50, 90,55,72,36,7,25,35,19,20,56,26,27,28,17,11,12,
10, 15,37,31,23,34,21,37,40,41,47,43,44,45,46,51,88,

Why is it important to know the chronology of the suras and
verses, although the Qur'an is not arranged in chrono-
logical order?

To know the origin and order of some of the revelation is
important for understanding its meaning which can often be
more easily grasped if one knows the time and circumstances

3 Zarkashi. Vol. 1, p. 194. For another list see fihrist. 1, pp. 52-3.
4 Fihrist, I. pp.49-52.

that relate to it. For instance, many ayat from the Makkan
period may be especially meaningful to Muslims living in a
strongly un-Islamic environment, while some of the Madinan
period would appeal much to Muslims who are in the process
of formation of the umma. In some cases, unless one knows
which of two or more related verses was revealed first, one
cannot decide which legal ruling is now binding upon the
Muslirns. Here knowledge of the chronology is directly linked
with the issue of al-nasikh wa al-mansukh. (5) It is also important
to know the chronology of verses in order to understand the
gradual development of many Muslim practices, attitudes and
laws such as e.g. towards prohibition of alcohol, towards
fighting, etc. and to see how these matters developed historic-
ally, i.e. during the lifetime of the Prophet in order to under-
stand their full implications.6

Knowledge about the Makkan and Madinan suras derived
from the sahaba and tabi'un and nothing is said about this by
the Prophet himself. (7) This is because at his time everyone was
a witness and well aware of the occasions of revelation.

Often there is internal evidence, as to which, part of the
revelation is Makkan or Madinan. There are a number of
guiding criteria, which help to distinguish between them:

- The theme. Does it belong to the Makkan or Madinan
  period? e.g. verses about warfare (9: 5) are only revealed
  after hijra.

- Sometimes there is a direct reference, such as e.g. to Abu
  Lahab in Sura 111, or to the Battle of Badr in Sura 3: 123.

- The length. Makkan ayat are often short, Madinan ones
  longer, e.g.: Sura al-shu'ara'(26) is Makkan. It has 227 ayat.

Sura al-anfal (8) is Madinan. It has (only) 75 ayat.

Makkan suras are usually short, Madinan ones longer, e.g.:

5 See below for details.
6 For example as far as fighting the enemy is concerned, the first
  verse revealed on this particular subject is from Sura al-hajj (22).
  This verse is from the Madinan period and it becomes clear from this
  that Muslims were not drawn to fight against the non-Muslims before
  the hijra. This has important implications for our own planning and
  thinking, e.g. to decide when Islam has to be defended today with
  verbal and when with physical means.
7 al-Baqillani, in Qattan, op. cit., p.SS.

Juz' 30 is overwhelmingly Makkan. It has 543 (Makkan) vyat.

Juz' 18 is overwhelmingly Madinan. It has (only) 117
(Madinan) ayat.

There are however exceptions in both cases.

- The form of address. Often the address: 'O ye who
  believe', and 'O people of the book' indicates a Madinan
  origin, while the addresses 'O Mankind' and 'O People'
  are usually of Makkan origin.

- The theme. Among the Makkan themes are tawhid,
  shirk, day of resurrection, moral corruption, stories of
  the Prophets. These topics are also found in Madinan
  suras, but usually only touched upon briefly. Madinan
  themes which are not found in Makkan revelations are
  of social and legal implications, concerning marriage,
  divorce, inheritance, punishment, etc.

- There are 19 suras with so-called huruf tahajji (such as
  alif , lam , mim , etc . ) . All these suras are Makkan, except
  Sura al-baqara (2) and Al 'Imran (3).

- All ayat with the word kalla are Makkan.

- All suras containing sajda are Makkan.

- Most of the suras of the group mufassal, beginning with
  Sura qaf (50) in the latter part of the Qur'an are Makkan .

- All references to the munafiqun are from Madina (except
  Sura al-'ankabut (29). Its verse 11 is Makkan.


The knowledge of Makkan and Madinan revelations is one
of the important branches of ''ulum al-qur'an. It is not merely
of historical interest, but particularly important for the under-
standing and interpretation of the respective verses.

Many suras of the Qur'an do contain material from both
periods of revelation, and in some cases there exists difference
of opinion among scholars concerning the classification of a
particular passage. However, on the whole, it is a well-
established distinction, fully employed in the science of tafsir
and best derived from the internal evidence of the text of the
Qur'an itself.


The Qur'an has been revealed for guidance, for all times
and situations to come. However, various ayat were revealed
at a particular time in history and in particular circumstances.
The Arabic word sabab (pl. asbab) means reason, cause and
'marifa asbab al-nuzul' is the knowledge about the reasons of
the revelations, i.e. the knowledge about the particular events
and circumstances in history that are related to the revelation
of particular passages from the Qur'an.

Its Importance

Wahidi (d. 468/1075), one of the best classical scholars in
this field wrote: 'The knowledge about Tafsir of the ayat is not
possible without occupying oneself with their stories and
explanation of (the reasons) for their revelation.' (8)

Knowledge about the asbab al-nuzul helps one to under-
stand the circumstances in which a particular revelation
occurred, which sheds light on its implications and gives
guidance to the explanation (tafsir) and application of the aya
in question for other situations.

In particular, knowledge about the asbab al-nuzul helps one
to understand:

- The direct and immediate meaning and implication of an
  Dya, as it can be seen within its original context.
- The imminent reason underlying a legal ruling.
- The original intent of the aya.

Whether the meaning of an aya is specific or of general
application, and if so, under which circumstances it is to
be applied.

The historical situation at the time of the Prophet and the
development of the early Muslim community.


'To God belong the East and the West: whithersoever ye
turn, there is the presence of God, for God is all-
pervading, all-knowing' (2:115).

8 Asbab al-nuzul, by al-Wahidi al-Nisaburi. Cairo, 1968, p 4

Without knowing the sabab (reason), one might easily con-
clude that this revelation permits the Muslim to face any
direction when performing prayer, while it is well known that
to face qibla is one of the conditions without which prayer
becomes invalid. The circumstances in which this revelation
occurred explains its implications:

According to Wahidi (9) a group of Muslims travelled on a dark
night and they did not know where the qibla was, so they later
realised that they had prayed in the wrong direction. They
asked the Prophet about it and he kept silent until the above
verse was revealed. ' (10) Taking into account this reason for the
revelation one cannot come to the wrong conclusion that it is
unimportant where to turn in prayer. The scholars say how-
ever that this verse excuses the mistake of those who un-
willingly and under adverse circumstances fail to observe the
correct qibla.

How it is Known

The well-known asbab al-nuzul have been related to us by
the reliable Companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Only

9 op. cit. pp. 20-21
10 Based on a report from Jabir b. 'Abdullah. Wahidi also informs us about
some other situations when the aya reportedly applied:

- That one may pray voluntary prayer on one's riding camel, in whichever
direction it may turn (based on Ibn 'Umar).
- That the Companions of the Prophet asked why they were ordered to pray
the dead Negus of Abyssinia, who had prayed towards a different qibla than
their own (based on Ibn 'Abbas and 'Ata').
- That the Jews asked, why the yibla of the Muslims had been changed from
bait al-maqdis (based on Ibn Abi Talha).

See Wahidi, op.cit., p.21. All this supports the view (to which in
K. Murad drew my attention) of Suyuti based on Zarkashi (Suyuti, Lubab an
nuzul, Tunis, 1981, p.7.) that when the suhaba of the Prophet spoke about
an aya of the Qur'an, saying 'It was revealed concerning ...'(nazalat fi
kadha) they do not restrict themselves to narrating a shlgle 'cause' for
the revelation of an aya but rather refer to the 'situations' to which
particular verses where found applicable during the lifetime of the Prophet

while the occasion of the first revelation of the aya may have becn much
earlier. In this lie great avenues for understanding and tatsir of the
Qur'anic message.

reports which are sahih can be considered fully reliable, as is
the case in the science of hadith generally. A particular
condition here is also that the person who relates it should
have been present at the time and occasion of the event (the
revelation). " Reports from tab'iun only, not going back to the
Prophet and his Companions are to be considered weak
(da'if). Hence one cannot accept the mere opinion of writers
or people that such and such verse might have been revealed
on such and such occasion. Rather one needs to know exactly
who related this incident, whether he himself was present, and
who transmitted it to us.

Kinds of Reports

There are two kinds of reports on asbab al-nuzul:

- Definite reports.
- Probable reports.

In the first kind (definite) the narrator clearly indicates that
the event he relates is the sabab al-nuzul.


Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: the verse 'Obey Allah and obey
the apostle and those of you (Muslims) who are in
authority ...' (4: 59) was revealed in connection with
'Abdullah bin Hudafa bin Qais bin 'Adi when the Prophet
appointed him as the commander of a sariyya (army
detachment). (12)

In the second kind (probable) the narrator does not indicate
clearly that the event narrated is the sabab al-nuzul, but
suggests this probability.


Narrated 'Urwa: Az-Zubair quarrelled with a man from
the Ansar because of a natural mountainous stream at
Al-Harra. The Prophet said: O Zubair, irrigate (your

11 Wahidi. p.4.
12 Bukhari, VI, No. 108.

land) and then let the water flow to your neighbour. The
Ansar said: O Allah's apostle (this is because) he is your
cousin? At that the Prophet's face became red (with
anger) and he said: O Zubair. Irrigate (your land) and
then withhold the water till it fills the land up to the walls
and then let if flow to your neighbour. So the Prophet
enabled Az-Zubair to take his full right after the Ansari
provoked his anger.

The Prophet had previously given an order that was in
favour of both of them. Az-Zubair said: 'I don't think
but this verse was revealed in this connection: But no, by
your Lord, they can have no faith, until they make you
judge in all disputes between them' (4: 65).  (13)

Kinds of Reasons

There are three kinds of 'reasons' which are connected with
revelation of particular passages from the Qur'an:

1 Revelation in response to an event or a general situation.

2 Revelation in response to a particular question that has
  been asked by someone.

3 Revelation for other reasons, known or not known to us.


Response to an Event

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: The Prophet went out towards
Al-Batha' and ascended the mountain and shouted: 'O
Sabahah', so the Quraish people gathered around him.
He said: 'Do you see? If I tell you that an enemy is going
to attack you in the morning or in the evening, will you
believe me?' They replied: 'Yes'. He said- 'Then I am a
plain warner to you of a coming severe punishment'.
Abu Lahab said: 'Is it for this reason that you have
gathered us? May you perish!' Then Allah revealed
'Perish the hands of Abu Lahab' (Sura 111: verse 1). (14)

13 Bukhari, VI, No. 109.
14 Bukhari, VI, No. 496.

The Sura concerning Abu Lahab was revealed in response
to this event, when Abu Lahab said: 'May you perish!'

Response to a Particular Situation

Sura 2:158 concerning Safa and Marwa was revealed in
response to a particular situation in Makka during the time of
the Prophet.

Narrated 'Urwa: I asked 'A'isha (regarding the Sa'i be-
tween As-Safa and Al-Marwa). She said: 'Out of rever-
ence to the idol Manat which was placed in Al-Mushallal
those who used to assume Ih. ram in its name, used not to

perform Sa'l between As-Safa and Al-Marwa (because
there were two other idols between these two hills). So
Allah revealed: Verily As.-Safa and Al-Marwa are among
the symbols of Allah.' Thereupon Allah's apostle and
the Muslims used to perform Sa'i (between them).
Sufyan said: The (idol) Manat was at Al-Mushallal in
Qudaid. 'A'isha added: 'The verse was revealed in
connection wlth the Ansar. They and (the tribe of)
Ghassan used to assume Ih. ram in the name of Manat
before they embraced Islam'. 'A'isha added 'There were
men from the Ansar who used to assume Ihram in the
name of Manat which was an idol between Makka and
Medina. They said, O Allah's Apostle! We used not to
perform the Tawaf (sa'i) between As-Safa and Al-
Marwa out of reverence to Manat. " (15)

In response to this situation 2: 158 was revealed.

Question to the Prophet

On many occasions the Muslims addressed questions to the
Prophet concerning Islamic beliefs and the Islamic way of life.
An example of the many occasions when a revelation was
revealed in response to such a question posed to the Prophet is
Sura4: 11:

15 Bukhari, VI, No. 384; also Nos. 22. 23.

Narrated Jabir: The Prophet and Abu Bakr came on foot
to pay me a visit (during my illness) at Banu Salama's
(dwellings). The Prophet found me unconscious, so he
asked for water and performed the ablution from it and
sprinkled some water over me. I came to my senses and
said O Allah's apostle! What do you order me to do as
regards my wealth?

So there was revealed 'Allah commands you as regards
your children's (inheritance)' (4: 11). (16)

The verse in question is concerned with inheritance and
explains the rules of inheritance for children as follows:

God (thus) directs you as regards your children's (inheri-

'To the male a portion equal to that of two females: if
only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of
the inheritance. If only one, her share is half ...' (4:11).

Question by the Prophet

On other occasions, the Prophet himself asked questions.
Sura 19: 64 was revealed in response to such a question by the
Prophet Muhammad:

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: The Prophet said to the Angel
Gabriel, What prevents you from visiting us more often
than you visit us now? So there was revealed: 'And we
(angels) descend not but by the command of your Lord.
To Him belongs what is before us and what is behind us
....' (19: 64).' (17)

Response to a General Question

There are numerous occasions when revelation was sent
down providing guidance concerning general questions that
had arisen in the Muslim community.

16 Bukhari, VI, No. 101.
17 Bukhari, VI, No. 255.

Thabit narrated from Anas: Among the Jews, when a
woman menstruated, they did not dine with her, nor did
they live with them in their houses; so the Companions of
the apostle (may peace be upon him) asked the apostle
(may peace be upon him) and Allah the Exalted revealed:

'And they ask you about menstruation: say it is a pollu-
tion, so keep away from women during menstruation' to
the end (Qur'an 2: 222).

The messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said:
Do everything except intercourse ... (18)

This report is also a good example of how the Prophet
himself explained the meanings of the revelation when such
questions arose.

Partiular Persons

Often a general rule which became part of the Qur'anic
revelation, was first tevealed in response to the circumstances
or needs of a particular person, e.g. Sura 2:196:

'... And if any of you is ill, or has an ailment in his scalp
(necessitating shaving) he should in compensation either
fast or feed the poor or offer sacrifice ...' Ka'b bin 'Ujra
said this verse - and if one of you is ill or has an ailment in
his scalp, - was revealed concerning me. I had lice on my
head and I mentioned this to the Prophet and he said:
Shave (your head) and compensate by fasting three days
or a sacrifice or feed six poor, for each poor one Sa'. (19)

This is again an example of the Prophet himself explaining

the revelation in detail. At other times such revelation could
not be applied but to the respective person. The best example
of such a revelation is Sura Lahab (111) already referred to
above. Other examples are references to the Prophet
Muhammad in the Quran, such as e.g. Sura 75: 16:

18 Muslim, I. No. 592.
19 Muslim, II, Nos. 2735, 2738, 2739; Wahidi, op.cit., p.31. One sai is a
cubic measure of approx. 2.6 kg.

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas (as regards Allah's statement)
'Move not your tongue concerning (the Qur'an) to make
haste therewith' (75:16).

When the Angel Gabriel revealed the divine inspiration
to Allah's Apostle he moved his tongue and lips, and that
stage used to be very hard for him, and that movement
indicated that revelation was taking place. So Allah
revealed in Sura al-qiyama which begins: 'I do swear by
the Day of Resurrection ...'

The Verses: 'Move not your tongue concerning (the
Qur'an) to make haste therewith. It is for us to collect it
(Qur'an) in your mind and give you the ability to recite it
by heart' (75:16-17). (21)

Several Asbab and One Revelation

>From the reports of the sahaba it appears that particular
passages of the Qur'an were revealed in response to more
than one event, situation or question, or that the application
of a particular passage of the Qur'an was for more than one
particular occasion, as pointed out above.


Sura al-ikhlas (112) firstly responds to the mushrikdn in Makka
before the hijra, and secondly to the ahl al-kitab encountered
in Madina after the hijra. (21)

Another example is Sura 9: 113:

This aya was revealed firstly in connection with the death of
the Prophet's uncle Abu Talib, where Muhammad said 'I will
keep on asking (Allah for) forgiveness for you unless I am
forbidden to do so'. Then there was revealed: it is not fitting
for the Prophet and those who believe that they should pray
for forgiveness for pagans, even though they be of kin, after it
has become clear to them that they are the companions of the
Fire. (22)

20 Bukhari. VI. No. 451.
21 Itqan, I, p.35; Wahidi, op.cit., pp.262-3.
22 Bukhari, VI, No. 197.

The other occasion reported is when the Companions and
in particular 'Umar b. al-Khattab found the Prophet shedding
tears when he visited the graveyard. The Prophet explained
that he had visited his mother's grave and that he had asked
his Lord's permission to visit it which had been granted to him
and that he had also asked his Lord's permission to pray for
her forgiveness which had not been granted to him and the
above aya had been revealed. (23)

Several Revelations and One Sabab

A well-known example for several revelations, which are
connected with one particular circumstance, are three verses
which according to reliable reports, came down in response to
the question of Umm Salama, whether or why only the men
had been referred to in the Qur'an, as being rewarded.
According to Al-Hakim and Tirmidhi the verses 3:195, 4: 32
and 33:35 were revealed in response to this question:

'And their Lord has accepted of them and answered
them: Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you
be he male or female: Ye are members, one of another:
those who have left their homes, or have been driven out
therefrom, or suffered harm in My cause, or fought or
been slain - verily I will blot out from them their
iniquities and admit them into gardens with rivers flow-
ing beneath; a reward from the presence of God and
from His presence is the best of rewards' (3: 195).

'And in no wise covet those things in which God has
bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on
others; to men is allotted what they earn and to women
what they earn: but ask God of His bounty for God has
full knowledge of all things' (4: 32).

'For Muslim men and women - for believing men and
women - for devout men and women, for true men and
women, for men and women who are patient and con-
stant, for men and women who humble themselves, for
men and women who give in charity, for men and women
who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity,
and for men and women who engage much in God's
praise - for them has God prepared forgiveness and
great reward' (33:35). (24)

23 Wahidi, op. cit., p. 152.

Several Views on Sabab al-Nuzul

It also occurs that the Companions of the Prophet when
mentioning a revelation, differed in their views about its
sabab al-nuzul. This is due to the fact that as already shown
above there have been various asbab for one particular reve-
lation, and each of the persons reporting the circumstances
had been present only on one of the various occasions.

Otherwise several views about the same revelation have to
be judged on their merits according to the rules of ''ulum
al-,hadith, and one of them will be found to be stronger than
the others.


There are two reports concerning the revelation of Sura 17: 85:

According to Ibn 'Abbas, as reported in Tirmidhi, the Quraish
asked the Jews to give them something they could ask the
Prophet about and they were advised to ask about the Spirit
(al-ruh). Then the aya 17:85 was revealed.

>From Ibn Mas'ud, as reported in Bukhari, it is related that
he said:

While I was in the company of the Prophet on a farm,
and he was reclining on a palm leaf stalk, some Jews
passed by. Some of them said to the others: Ask him
about the Spirit. Some of them said: What urges you to
ask him about it. Others said: (Don't) lest he should give
you a reply which you dislike, but they said, Ask him. So
they asked him about the Spirit. The Prophet kept quiet
and did not give them any answer. I knew that he was
being divinely inspired so I stayed at my place. When the

24. Salih, op cit., p. 148

divine inspiration had been revealed, the Prophet said
'They ask you (O Muhammad) concerning the Spirit.
Say: "the Spirit", its knowledge is with my Lord and
from the knowledge it is only a little that has been given
to you (mankind)' (17: 85).

The second report, although the first one has been declared
sahl.h by Tirmidhi, is considered to be stronger because it
comes from Ibn Mas'ud, who says that he was present on the
occasion of the revelation, while the report from Ibn 'Abbas in
Tirmidhi does not contain this information. (25)

Specific or General?

Another question leads directly to the field of tagstr, but is
still connected with asbab al-nuzul. When one knows about
the sabab al-nuzuls it is still to be decided whether the reve-
lation has a specific implication for the particular occasion it
was connected with, or whether it is of general implication
and needs to be applied by all Muslims at all times.


'As to the thief, male or female, cut off his or her hands: a
punishment by way of example, from God, for their
crime: and God is exalted in power' (5: 41).

This verse although it was revealed concerning a specific
person who had stolen a piece of armour and had been pun-
ished accordingly, is of general application. (26)

What is not Asbab al-Nuzul

In some cases scholars have provided us with the back-
ground of certain events that have been narrated in the
Qur'an. Obviously, however, such information does not
belong to the field of asbab al-nuzul. Although it may help to
understand the message of the revelation, it is not related in a

25 See Salih, op.cit., pp. 145-6; Bukhari, VI, No. 245.
26 See Wahidi, op.cit., p.111; also Tafsir Ibn al-Jauzi, Beirut,
1964, Vol.II, p.348.

direct and reliable way, showing immediate reason for or the
occasion of the revelation.


'Seest thou not how thy Lord dealt with the companions
of the elephant?' (105:1).

The following passage from a book of tatsrr, although it
contains information about the background of the event
narrated in the sura, does not belong to the field of asbab

(The companions of the elephant) had come from the
Yemen and wanted to destroy the Ka'ba (they were)
from Abyssinia and their leader was Abraha al-Ashram,
the Abyssinian. (27)


The branch of 'ulum al-qur'an concerned with the asbab
al-nuzul is one of the most important areas of knowledge for
the proper understanding and explanation of the Qur'anic
revelation. The message of the Qur'an is guidance for all
times. However its dyd t were revealed at particular points of
time in history and in particular circumstances.

One of the most crucial steps in meaningful interpretation is
to distinguish between that part which is attached solely to the
historical event and that part, which, although attached to the
historical event, also has wider implications. The knowledge
of asbab al-nuzul helps to distinguish between these two by:

- Clarifying the events and circumstances, which are con-
  nected with the revelation of certain ayat*

- Illustrating the application of such ayat by referring to
  situations, when the Companions of the Prophet found
  them proper and applicable.

27 Tujibi, mukhtasar min tafsiral Tabari, Cairo, 1970, II, p.529.

The revelations from Allah as found in the Qur'an touch on
a variety of subjects, among them beliefs, history, tales of the
prophets, day of judgement, Paradise and Hell, and many
others. Particularly important are the ahkam (legal rulings),
because they prescribe the manner of legal relationships
between people, as Allah wishes them to be observed.

While the basic message of Islam remains always the same,
the legal rulings have varied throughout the ages, and many
prophets before Muhammad brought particular codes of law
(sharga) for their respective communities.

The Arabic words 'nasikh' and 'mansukh' are both derived
from the same root word 'nasakha' which carries meanings
such as 'to abolish, to replace, to withdraw, to abrogate'.

The word nasikh (an active participle) means 'the abro-
gating', while mansukh (passive) means 'the abrogated'. In
technical language these terms refer to certain parts of the
Qur'anic revelation, which have been 'abrogated' by others.
Naturally the abrogated passage is the one called 'mansukh'
while the abrogating one is called 'nasikh'.

The Qur'an on Naskh

The principle of naskh (abrogation) is referred to in the
Qur'an itself and is not a later historical development:

'None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause it to
be forgotten, but We substitute something better or
similar: knowest thou that God has power over all
things?' (2: 106). (28)

How it came about

When the message of Islam was presented to the Arabs as
something new, and different from their way of life, it was

28 Some however say that this refers to the revelations before the Quran,
which have now been substituted by the Quran itself. See Mawdudi. The
Meaning of the qur'an, Lahore, 1967, Vol. I, p.102. note 109.

introduced in stages. The Qur'an brought important changes
gradually, to allow the people to adjust to the new prescrip-


There are three verses in the Qur'an concerning the drinking
of wine. Wine drinking was very widespread in pre-Islamic
times and, although a social evil, highly esteemed. The three
verses which finally led to the prohibition of intoxicating
substances were revealed in stages (4: 43, 2: 219; 5: 93-4).

Why it is important

Knowledge of al-nasikh wa al-mansukh is important
because it concerns the correct and exact application of the
laws of Allah. It is specifically concemed with legal revelations:

- It is one of the important pre-conditions for explanation
  (tafsir) of the Qur'an.
- It is one of the important pre-conditions for under-
  standing and application of the Islamic law (hukm,
- It sheds light on the historical development of the Islamic
  legal code.
- It helps to understand the immediate meaning of the ayat

Tafsir (explanation of the Qur'an) or legal ruling is not
acceptable from a person who does not have such knowledge.

How do we know it?

As in the field of asbab al-nuzul, the information about
al-nasikh wa al-mansukh cannot be accepted upon mere
personal opinion, guesswork or hearsay, but must be based on
reliable reports, according to the ulum al-hadith, and should
go back to the Prophet and his Companions.

The report must also clearly state which part of the revelation
is nasikh and which is mansukh.

Some scholars say that there are three ways of knowing
about al-nasikh wa al-mansukh:

1 Report from the Prophet or Companions.
2 Ijma' (consensus of the umma upon what is nasikh and
  what mansukh).
3 Knowledge about which part of the Qur'an preceded
  another part in the history of revelation. (29)


Narrated Mujahid (regarding the verse):
Those of you who die and leave wives behind, they (their
wives) shall await (as regards their marriage) for four
months and ten days (2: 234).

The widow, according to this verse, was to spend this
period of waiting with her husband's family, so Allah
revealed: Those of you who die and leave wives (i.e.
widows) should bequeath for their wives, a year's main-
tenance and residence without turning them out, but if
they leave (their residence) there is no blame on you for
what they do with themselves, provided it is honourable
(i.e. Iawful marriage) (2: 240).

So Allah entitled the widow to be bequeathed extra
maintenance for seven months and 20 nights and that is
the completion of one year. If she wished, she could stay
(in her husband's home) according to the will, and she
could leave it if she wished, as Allah says: Without
turning them out, but if they leave (the residence) there
is no blame on you.

So the idea (i.e. four months and ten days) is obligatory
for her.

'Ata' said: Ibn 'Abbas said: This verse i.e. the statement
of Allah ... without turning one out ... cancelled the
obligation of staying for the waiting period in her late
husband's house, and she can complete this period
wherever she likes.

29 Qattan, op.cit., p. 199

'Ata' said: If she wished, she could complete her 'idda by
staying in her late husband's residence according to the
will or leave it according to Allah's statement:

'There is no blame on you for what they do with them-

'Ata' added: Later the regulations of inheritance came
and abrogated the order of the dwelling of the widow (in
her dead husband's house) so she could complete the
'idda wherever she likes. And it was no longer necessary
to provide her with a residence.

Ibn Abbas said: This verse abrogated her (i.e. the
widow's) dwelling in her dead husband's house and she
could complete the 'idda (i.e. four months and ten days)
(wherever she liked, as Allah's statement says: ...
'without turning them out ...' (30)

This report explains clearly which part of the revelation is
nasikh and which is mansukh. Mujahid was one of the well-
known tab'iun and Ibn 'Abbas was a Companion of the

What is Abrogated?

According to some scholars the Qur'an abrogates only the
Qur'an. They base their view on suras 2: 106 and 16: 101.
According to them the Qur'an does not abrogate the sunna
nor does the sunna abrogate the Qur'an. This is, in particular,
the view held by Shafi'i. (31)

Others are of the opinion that the Qur'an may abrogate the
Qur'an as well as the sunna. They base their view on Sura 53:

There is also the view that there are four classes of naskh:

1 Qur'an abrogates Qur'an.

30 Bukhari, VI, No. 54.
31 For details see Kitab al-risala, Cairo, n.d., pp.30-73; English
translation by M. Khadduri, op.cit., pp. 12345; for a brief summary
of Ash-Shafi'i's views see also Seeman, K., Ash-Shafi'is Risala,
Lahore, 1961, pp.53-85.

2 Qur'an abrogates sunna.
3 Sunna abrogates Qur'an.
4 Sunna abrogates sunna. (32)

In this discussion, we shall only consider the abrogation in
the Qur'an, and leave aside the abrogation in the sunna.

Three Kinds of Naskh in the Qur'an (33)

The scholars have divided abrogation into three kinds:

1 Abrogation of the recited (verse) together with the legal
2 Abrogation of the legal ruling without the recited (verse).
3 Abrogation of the recited (verse) without the legal ruling.


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

'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)

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

32 Qattan, op.cit, pp. 201-2.
33 Ibn Salama, al-nasikh wa al-mansukh, Cairo, 1966, p.5.
34  Muslim, II, No. 3421.

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

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

'Abdullah bin 'Abbas reported that sUmar 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. (35)

The punishment of stoning for adultery by married people

35 Muslim, III, No. 4194; Bukhari, VIII, No. 816.

has been retained in the sunna, while it is not included in the
Qur'an .

The Abrogated Verses

There are, according to Ibn Salama, (36) a well-known
author on the subject:

- 43 suras with neither nasikh or mansukh.
- 6 suras with nasikh but no mansukh.
- 40 suras with mansukh but no nasikh.
- 25 suras with both nasikh and mansukh.

According to Suyuti's Itqan there are 21 instances in the
Qur'an, where a revelation has been abrogated by another.

He also indicates that there is a difference of opinion about
some of these: e.g. 4: 8, 24: 58, etc. (37)

Some scholars have attempted to reduce the number of
abrogations in the Qur'an even further, by explaining the
relationships between the verses in some special ways, e.g. by
pointing out that no legal abrogation is involved, or that for
certain reasons the naskh is not genuine

Shah Waliullah (d. 1759) the great Muslim scholar from
India only retained the following 5 out of Suyuti's 21 cases as

Mansukh 2: 180  nasikh 4: 11, 12
Mansukh 2:240   nasikh 2: 234.
Mansukh 8:65    nasikh 8: 62.
Mansukh 30:50   nasikh 33: 52.
Mansukh 58: 12  nasikh 58: 13.


A case listed by Suyuti, which has no direct legal implication is
the following:

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: When the verse: 'If there are 20
amongst you, patient and persevering, they will over-

36 Op cit., see pp.6-8 for the names of these suras.
37 Itqan, II, pp.20-3; Kamal, op.cit., pp.101-9 also gives Suyuti's
complete list.

come two hundred', was revealed, it became hard on the
Muslims, when it became compulsory that one Muslim
ought not to flee before 10 (non-Muslims) so Allah
lightened the order by revealing: 'but now Allah has
lightened your (task) for He knows that there is weakness
in you. But (even so) if there are 100 amongst you who
are patient and persevering, they will overcome 200
(non-Muslims)' (8: 66).

So when Allah reduced the number of enemies that
Muslims should withstand, their patience and persever-
ence against the enemy decreased as much as their task
was lightened for them. (38)

Still others hold that there are no genuine (sahih) reports
available on this issue, going back to the Prophet, while those
going back to the Companions contradict each other. (39)

Therefore to them the issue of nasikh wa al mansukh is per-
haps not of great importance. However, it is clear from the
Qur'an itself, (e.g. in the case of inheritance, 2: 180; 4: 7-9,
etc.) that abrogation occurred occasionally. Hence it is wrong
to completely ignore the subject.

Abrogation and Specification

There is of course a difference between abrogation and
specification. By the latter is meant that one revelation

38 Bukhari, VI, No.176.
39 Ali, M.M.: The Religion of Islam, Lahore, 1936, p.32. It may be pointed
out that Ali's treatment of the subject is not very thorough. Of the three
examp1es he cites in support of his opinion ('in most cases, where a report

is traceable to one Companion who held a certain verse to have been
abrogated, there is another report traceable to another Companion, through
the fact that the verse was not abrogated' - p. 33) two are definitely not
in his favour, while the third can be easily explained. His first case
concerns Sura 2:180 (inheritance). It has certainly been superseded by
verses, e.g. 4:7-9 and that is probably all that is meant, when saying it
is mansukhz Ali's second case, '2:184, is considered by Ibn 'Umar as having

been abrogated while Ibn 'Abbas says it was not' . See below, where I have
quoted this very hadith from Ibn 'Abbas (Bukhari, VI, No.32) where Ibn
'Abbas himself explains why he does not hold it as abrogated. The third
case is, like the first one, definitely not in support of Ali: '2: 240 was
abrogated according to Ibn Zubair, while Mujahid says it was not'. This is
wrong, see Sahih Bukhari, VI, Nos. 53 and 54, where both Ibn Zubair and
Mujahid hold the verse to be abrogated. Furthermore both Ibn Zubair ard
Mujahid are tabi'un, and not Companions (sahaba).

explains in more detail or according to specific circumstances
how another revelation should be understood.


Sura 2:183 says 'O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to
you ...'

Narrated 'Ata' that he heard Ibn'Abbas reciting the
Divine verse 'for those who can do it is a ransom, the
feeding of one that is indigent' (2:184).

Ibn 'Abbas said 'This verse is not abrogated but it is
meant for old men and old women who have no strength
to fast, so they should feed one poor person for each day
of fasting (instead of fasting). (40)

It is quite clear that the second verse (2:184) does not
abrogate the rule of fasting from the first verse (2:183) but
explains that in a specific case, that of feeble old people, there
is a way of making up for the loss of fast.

In the same way the verses concerning intoxicating drinks
can be understood as specifications rather than abrogations


The Qur'an, in 2:106, refers to the concept of naskh.
However, there is a difference of opinion about the extent to
which al-nasikh wa-al mansukh does in fact occur in the text of
the Qur'an. The information concerning al-nasikh wa-al
mansukh must be treated with great caution as, for all reports
concerning the text of the Qur'an, two independent witnesses
are required. Many of the examples which the scholars have
drawn upon to illustrate this question (and I have quoted
them for the same purpose) are based on one witness only.
'A'isha alone reported that 10 or 5 sucklings had been part of
the Qur'anic recitation, and only 'Umar reported that the
'verse of stoning' had been included in the Qur'anic text.
These legal rulings are not included in the Qur'an precisely
because they were not considered reliable, being based on

40 Bukhari, VI, No. 32.

one witness only. Similarly, other examples about naskh,
based on the words of Ibn 'Abbas or Mujahid aione, are to be
judged by the same measure.

However, as mentioned there remain a small number of
verses which, as far as can be ascertained from the internal
evidence of the Qur'an, have been superseded by other verses
in the Qur'an.


What is the meaning of al-ahruf al-sab'a?

The word sab'a means seven, and ahruf is the plural form of
h. arf, which has many meanings, among them 'edge' border,
letter, word', etc. In technical language it describes the variety
of modes of the Qur'an transmitted to us, also expressed in
various forms of writing the text.


Read the two versions of Sura 2:9 given on plates 7 and 8.
Disregard the difference in style of writing. The first example
is from a Qur'an from North Africa, the second from a Qur'an
from Jordan. In the North African version, the word
'yukhadi'una' (they deceive) is used twice, while in the
Jordan version, the word occurs as 'yakhda'una' in the
second instant. Both are correct and accepted readings, since
they have been transmitted to us. Also there is no objection
from the viewpoint of grammar or correct language and the
writing without vowel signs can carry both readings.

The Language of the Quraish

In the time of the Prophet Muhammad when the Qur'an
was revealed, the Arab tribes scattered all over the peninsula,
spoke a number of dialects, each containing peculiar words
and idioms.

The language of the Quraish had developed into a form of
'high Arabic' due to the many influences it absorbed, being
spoken at the main centre of trade and pilgrimage in Arabia.
Hence this language was obviously the most suitable to carry
the messages of revelation which were to reach all peoples and
not be restricted to a particular tribe.

The Seven Modes

The hadith reports tell us that the Qur'an was actually
revealed in seven modes (al-ahruf al-sab'a). This has been
narrated by more than ten of the Prophet's Companions,
among them Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman, Ibn Mas'ud, Ibn
'Abbas and others. (41)

The following is the hadith in Bukhari:

'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'. (42)

On another occasion, 'Umar complained tO the Prophet
that Hisham had recited Sura al-furqan in a way different from
what 'Umar had heard from the Prophet, but the Prophet said:
'... this Qur'an has been revealed to be recited in seven
different ways, so recite of it whichever is easier for you'. (43)

Salman is reported to have said that he read a passage from
5:82 in the presence of the Prophet in the following two
versions, the first of which is now in the Qur'anic text, while
the second constitutes a variant reading according to 'Ubay b.
Ka'b: (44)

1 dhalika bi-anna minhum qissisina wa ruhbana.
2 dhalika bi-anna minhum siddiqina wa ruhbana. (45)

Muslim scholars have put forward a number of explanations
and benefits for the Muslim umma deriving from the revelation

41 Itqan, I, p. 41.
42 Bukhari, VI No. 513.
43 Bukhari, VI No. 514.
44 Ibn Abi Dawud. p. 129.
45 ibid ., p. 103.

of the Qur'anic message in several modes. Among these the
following are most important:

- To make the reading, pronunciation and memorisation
  more easy, as many people were illiterate in the Prophet's
- To unite the new Muslim community on the basis of one
  common language, the Arabic of the Quraish, with minor
  variations accepted, according to spoken language.
- To show something of the unique nature of the Qur'an, in
  the realm of language.
- To show something of the unique nature of the Qur'an, in
  the realm of meaning and legal rulings.
- To explain a legal ruling in more detail.

Scholars Differ

There is a difference of opinion among classical Muslim
scholars on the subject of the 'seven modes', to the extent that
one of them was able to say: 'the degree of difference of opin-
ion (ikhtilAf) among the scholars is to the extent of 35
sayings'. (46)

Some of these different opinions are that the 'seven modes'

- Different languages (dialects) current among the Arabs
  at the time of revelation, such as e.g. Quraish, Hudhail,
  Tamlm, etc., who had different ways of pronunciations
  which could even affect the spelling, e.g.
  al-tabuh and al-tabut. (2: 248) 47
  or: hiyaka for iyaka (1:5).
  or: atta for hatta (12: 35).

- It may also be the usage of words from the different
  languages in the Qur'an (this is considered one of the
  most sound views).
- Usage of synonyms in the Qur'an, i.e. that a variety of

46 Itqan, I, p.45.
47 See Kamal, op. cit., p.46.

expressions describe one and the same concept. A well-
known example is Sura 101: 5, which reads as 'Ka-l-'ihni-
l-manfush', but in another version 'Ka-s-sufi-l-manfush'
both meaning 'like carded wool'. The word arshidna was
read in place of ihdina (Sura 1: 6), etc. (48)

- Different aspects of the revelation, such as e.g. order,
  prohibitions, promise, narrations, etc.
- Seven differences, such as possible ways of reading words
  and structures in the Qur'an, e.g. the word 'trusts' in 23: 8
  which can be read both 'trust' (sg.) or 'trusts' (pl.) accord-
  ing to the plain text without vowels: li-amanatihim or
  li-amanatihim .
- Slightly different wordings of a particular passage, such
  as e.g. in 9: 100: 'Gardens under which rivers flow' which
  some read as 'Gardens from under which rivers flow',
  adding the word 'from' (min) to the text.
- Different ways of pronunciation as they have been ex-
  plained in great detail by the scholars of qira'a (recitation)
  such as e.g. imala, idgham, etc. (49)

However, even non-Muslim orientalists concede that 'no
major differences of doctrines can be constructed on the basis
of the parallel readings based on the 'Uthmanic consonantal
outline, yet ascribed to mushats other than his. All the rival
readings unquestionably represent one and the same text.
They are substantially agreed in what they transmit ... (50)


>From these different opinions, of which only some have
been listed above, by way of illustration, a generally-accepted
conclusion is that the 'seven modes' are at the basis of several
distinct ways of reciting the qur'an, reflecting the different
usage at the time of revelation, comprising variations in pro-

48 Both examples from Ibn Mas'ud. This view is also very close to the
Idea of various dialects. and many scholars tend to accept such usage
of synonyms, as meaning the seven modes'.
49 This view has also been favoured hy many, because it does not cause much
50 Burton, J,: The Collecsorl of tl7e qur'an, Cambridge. 1977, p. 171.

nunciation and even minor differences in wording. The 'seven
'ahruf are however, not identical with the well-known 'seven
readings'. These came about in a later age. Although much of
what the 'seven readings' contain is also found in the seven
aS.lrdf, there are some differences, which will be explained
when discussing the seven readings.

Only a few examples for 'ahruf have been transmitted to
us. They are of importance for Tafsir, rather than qira'a.

Seven Modes in the Qur'an

While some scholars' hold that the written Qur'an now
includes only one of the 'seven modes', and the others are
transmitted orally to us, there is some evidence also for the
view that the text of the Qur'an, as we have it in front of us,
may include all these 'seven modes' because:

- No one would change the Qur'an.
- The present text was written upon the basis of the sahdba
  testimonies, both orally and written, going back directly
  to the Prophet.

The Qur'an is protected by Allah.


Al-qira'a (pl. qiraa'at) is derived from the word qara'a,
'reading, reciting'; from which also the word Qur'an is derived.
It is a verbal noun, meaning recitation. In technical language
it describes the oral recitation of the Qur'an as well as the
punctuation of the written text, which corresponds to the oral


51 e.g. Tabari, Jami' al-bayan 'an ta'wil ayat al-qur'an, Cairo, 1968. See
introduction to this tafsir. Zarkashi, Vol. 1, p.213 says most scholars are

of the first view, and that the last double-reading of the Qur'an by
in the presence of the Angel Gabriel served, among others, the purpose of
eliminating the other six modes.

Maududi (52) has very convincingly explained the proper under-
Standing of some accepted difference in reading. He wrote
that in al-fatiha (1: 3):

- maliki
- maliki

both describe one of the attributes of Allah,
and there is absolutely no contradiction
between 'sovereign' and 'master' of the day of
judgement, but 'these two readings make the
meaning of the verse all the more clear'.

Similarly 5:8 arjulakum (53) and arjulikum (54) carry two

Wash and Wipe (yourfeet)

Both are indeed correct, for under norrnal circumstances a
man will wash his feet, while some other person e.g. a traveller
may wipe them. Here the text of the Qur'an carries both
meanings at the same time. This is indeed a unique feature of
the revelation from Allah.

Readers among the Sababa
Reading and reciting of the Qur'an has been done since
revelation began, and the Prophet was the first to recite. This
has already been discussed in the section on transmission of
the text. After his death, the recitation continued through his
Companions. Among the famous readers from whom many of
the tabi'un learned, were Ubay bin Ka'b, 'Ali, Zaid bin
Tbabit, Ibn Mas'ud, Abu Musa al-Ash'ari and many others.

Later Development

Later on, with Muslims settling in many parts of the world,
the Qur'an was recited in a variety of ways, some of which
were not in accordance with the accepted text and the trans-
rnitted readings from the Prophet and the Companions. This

52 Introduction to the Study of the Quran, Delhi, 1971, p.21.
53 Reading of Nafi, Hafs 'an Asim, Kisa'i.
54 Reading of Ibn Kathir, Abu Amr, Abu Bakra 'an 'Asim, Hamza.

necessitated a thorough screening and distinction between
what is sahih (sound) and what is shadh (exceptional).

The Seven Readings

The 'seven readings' were standardised in the second/eighth
century. Ibn Mujahid, a ninth-century Muslim scholar, wrote
a book entitled The Seven Readings, in which he selected
seven of the prevailing modes of recitation as the best trans-
mitted and most reliable. Others were subsequently dis-
favoured and even opposed, among them the readings of Ibn
Mas'ud and 'Ubay bin Ka'b. However, this is not to say that
one must restrict oneself to one of these seven readings, or to
all of them. Below are listed the local origin of the seven
readings and the names of readers (55) and some transmitters
(rawis) connected with them:

Place           Reader                           Transmitter

1 Madina        Nafi' (169/785)                  Warsh (197/812)
2 Makka         Ibn Kathir (120/737)            
3 Damascus      Ibn 'Amir (118/736)
4  Basra        Abu 'Amr (148/770)
5  Kufa         'Asim (127/744)                  Hafs (180/796)
6  Kufa         Hamza (156/772)
7  Kufa         Al-Kisa'i (189/804)              Duri (246/860)

Readings No. 1 and 5 are of particular importance: the
reading transmitted by Warsh is widespread in Africa, except
Egypt, where, as now in almost all other parts of the Muslim
world, the reading transmitted by Hafs is observed.

Other Views

Later on other views emerged, making ten or fourteen
well-known readings. In addition to the seven above, the
following make up the ten and the fourteen readers:

55 For their short biographies see Fihrist ,I, p. 63ff.

8   Madina      Abu Ja'far (130/747)
9   Basra       Ya'qub (205/820)
10  Kufa        Khalaf (229/843)
11  Basra       Hasan al Basri (110/728)
12  Makka       Ibn Muhaisin (123/740)
13  Basra       Fahya al-Yazidi (202/817)
14  Kufa        al-Aimash (148/765)

The readings are also divided as follows: (56)

- The mutawatir (transmitted by many; they include the
  seven well-known readings).
- The ahad (transmitted by one; they number three, going
  back to the sahaba and together with the seven make up
  the ten).
- The shadh (exceptional; they go back to the tabi'un

Muslim scholars have laid down three criteria for the accep-
tance of any qira'a and three criteria for preferring some over
others. The best transmission was of course mutawatir. The
three criteria for acceptance of other readings are:

- Correctness according to Arabic grammar.
- Agreement with the written text of 'Uthman.
- Traced back reliably to the Prophet.

The three criteria for preference are:

- Correctness according to Arabic grammar.
- Agreement with the written text of 'Uthman.
- Reported/preferred by many (majority).


The best sumrnary on this topic is perhaps contained in the
words of the scholar Abu-l-Khair bin al-Jazari (d.833/1429),
who wrote:

56 Suyuti, Itqan, I, p 77.

'Every reading in accordance with Arabic (grammar)
even if (only) in some way, and in accordance with one of
the masahif of 'Uthman, even if (only) probable, and
with sound chain of transmission, is a correct (sahih)
reading, which must not be rejected, and may not be
denied, but it belongs to the seven modes (ahruf) accord-
ing to which the Qur'an was revealed, and the people are
obliged to accept it, no matter whether it is from the
seven Imams, or the ten or from other accepted Imams,
but when one of these three conditions is not fulfilled, it
must be rejected as weak (daif) or exceptional (shadh)
or void (batil), no matter whether it is from the seven or
from one who is older than them.' (57)

57 Suyuti, Itqan, I, p.75 .