There are ten authentic readings of the Qur’an. The most widely used across the Islamic world is the reading of ʿĀṣim narrated from Ḥafṣ. As such, it is known as the reading of Ḥafṣ ʿan ʿĀṣim (حفص عن عاصم), literally, the narration of Ḥafṣ from ʿĀṣim.
ʿĀṣim is one of the ten authentic qārīs or qurrāʾ (قراء) who transmitted the Qur’an in a reading (قراءة) specific to him. The ten readings of the Qur’an are therefore attributed to ten different transmitters whose names are as follows: Nāfiʿ, Ibn Kathīr, AbūʿAmr, Ibn ʿĀmir, ʿĀṣim, Ḥamzah, al-Kisāʾī, Abū Jaʿfar, Yaʿqūb and Khalaf.
Two readings from among these ten have become popular in the Islamic world to the exception of the other eight. They are the reading of Ḥafṣ ʿan ʿĀṣim which is most commonly read throughout the Islamic world and the reading of Warsh ʿan Nāfiʿ which is most commonly read throughout Africa outside of Egypt.
The readings can be distinguished from each other through seven key differences.
- The changing of nouns from singular to dual to plural (الإفراد والتثنية والجمع). For example: The word مسكين in Verse 184 of Sūrah al-Baqarah is read as miskeen (singular) in the reading of Ḥafṣ ʿan ʿĀṣim but it changes to masaakeen (plural) in some other readings.
- The changing of tenses from past to present/future or to imperative verbs (تصريف الأفعال). For example: The word تطوع in Verse 158 of Sūrah al-Baqarah is read as taṭawwaʿa in the past tense in the reading of Ḥafṣ ʿan ʿĀṣim but it changes to يطوع (yaṭṭawwaʿa) in the present/future tense in some other readings.
- The changing of iʿrāb (الإعراب) in certain words. For example: The word تسئل in Verse 119 of Sūrah al-Baqarah is read as tusʾalu with a ḍammah (pesh) on the letter تاء and a ḍammah on the letter لام in the reading of Ḥafṣ ʿan ʿĀṣim. However, in some other readings, it is pronounced as tasʾal with a fatḥah (zabar) on the letter تاء and a sukūn (jazm) on the letter لام .
- The addition or subtraction of words or letters (النقص والزيادة). For example: The phrase وسارعوا in Verse 133 of Sūrah Āl ʿImrān is read as wa-sāriʿū in the reading of Ḥafṣ ʿan ʿĀṣim but the letter واو is dropped in some other readings rendering the phrase as such: سارعوا (sāriʿū).
- Differences in the sequencing of words or letters by either bringing them forward or deferring them (التقديم والتأخير). For example: The phrase وقاتلوا وقتلوا in Verse 195 of Sūrah Āl ʿImrān is read as wa-qātalū wa-qutilū in the reading of Ḥafṣ ʿan ʿĀṣim but the word wa-qutilū gains precedence in some other readings rendering the phrase as such: وقتلوا وقاتلوا (wa-qutilū wa-qātalū).
- The replacement of letters (الإبدال). For example: The letter الباء in the word تبلوا (tablū) which is part of the phrase: هنالك تبلوا in Verse 30 of Sūrah Yūnus in the reading of Ḥafṣ ʿan ʿĀṣim is replaced with the letter التاء rendering the word: تتلوا (tatlū) in some other readings.
- The differences in accents and dialects (اللهجات). These include differences such as imālah, idghām, tarqīq, tafkhīm etc. These will be discussed in detail in a future post.
The reading of Khalaf ʿan Ḥamzah is notable owing to the fact that among its chain of transmission is Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (AS) who oversaw this reading before it was transmitted from Ḥamzah, its original transmitter. Kindly read this article to know more.