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It should be noted that the Qur’aan was revealed in one style at the beginning, but the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) kept asking Jibril until he taught him seven styles, all of which were complete. This could easily be understood from the hadith of Ibn Abbas who narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Jibril taught me one style and I reviewed it until he taught me more, and I kept asking him for more and he gave me more until finally there were seven styles.”  (Bukhari, 3047; Muslim, 819).

The Arabic word 'ahruf' used by the prophet (PBUH) in this regard, as will be seen clearer in Umar's hadith below, has generated so much argument among the people. What then is meant by (ahruf, sing. harf)? 

The best of the scholarly opinions concerning what is meant is that there are seven ways of reciting the Qur’an, where the wording may differ but the meaning is the same. If there is a different meaning then it is by way of variations on a theme, not opposition and contradiction. 

However, some scholars said that what was meant by ahruf was the dialects of the Arabs. But this answer is far-fetched, because of the hadith of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab who said: “I heard Hisham ibn Hakim reciting Surat al-Furqan in a manner different from that in which I used to recite it and the way in which the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) taught me to recite it.  I was about to argue with him whilst he was praying, but I waited until he finished his prayer, and then I tied his garment around his neck and seized him by it and brought him to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! I heard this man reciting Surat al-Furqun in a way different from the way you taught it to me.’ The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said to him: ‘Recite it,’ and he recited it as I had heard him recite it. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: ‘It was revealed like this.’ Then he said to me: ‘Recite it.’ So I recited it and he said: ‘It was revealed like this.’ This Qur'aan has been revealed in seven different ways, so recite it in the way that is easiest for you.’” (Bukhari, 2287; Muslim, 818) 

The point here is that Hisham is known to be Asadi Qurashi (i.e., from the clan of Bani Asad in Quraysh) and ‘Umar was ‘Adawi Qurashi (i.e., from the clan of Bani ‘Adiyy in Quraysh). Both of them were from Quraysh and Quraysh had only one dialect. If the difference in ahruf (styles) had been a difference in dialects, why would two men of Quraysh have been different? 

The scholars mentioned nearly forty different opinions concerning this matter! Perhaps the most correct is that which we have mentioned above.

It seems that the seven styles were revealed with different wordings, as indicated by the hadith of ‘Umar. This is because ‘Umar’s objection was to the style, not the meaning. The differences between these styles are not the matter of contradiction and opposition, rather they are synonymous, as Ibn Mas’ud said: “It is like one of you saying halumma, aqbil or ta’aal (all different ways of saying ‘Come here’).” 

With regard to the seven recitations (al-qira’at al-saba’), this number is not based on the Qur’an and Sunnah, rather it is the ijtihaad of Ibn Mujahid (may Allah have mercy on him). People thought that al-ahruf al-saba’ (the seven styles) were al-qira’at al-saba’ (the seven ways of recitation) because they happened to be the same number. But this number may have come about coincidentally, or it may have been done deliberately by Ibn Mujahid to match what was narrated about the number of styles (ahruf) being seven. Some people thought that the styles (ahruf) were the recitations, but this is a mistake, because there are more than fifty different qira'at reported about the Qur'an recitation, though most of them are refuted and generally irregular. No such comment regarding the seven qira'at, as said earlier, is known among the scholars. The seven recitations are one of the seven styles, and this is the style that ‘Uthman chose for all the Muslims.  

To say that Ibn Mujaahid’s different recitations meant the seven styles (ahruf) is not correct, as was said by Shaykh al-Islam ibn Taymiyyah. (Majmu’ah al-Fatawa, vol. 13, p. 210)[1]



[1] ) http://islamqa.info, with alterations.

 

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