Why does Qur'an have seven recitations (Qiraat)?
Seven Letters (qiraat) is a permission given to Muslims in order to read and understand the Quran well. As a matter of fact, the issue is explicitly explained in the relevant hadiths. The aim of the permission should be to enable the Quran to spread fast and the Muslims to understand and adopt the religion easily.
The Quran has orthographic rules peculiar to it. They are present in the versions of the Quran duplicated by Hazrat Uthman. Those differences are the basic references for the mutawatir (reaching us in an unbroken chain) forms of qiraat (reading). However, the difference is not in the same manuscript but in different manuscripts. For instance, the word “wassa” in the 132nd verse of Chapter al-Baqara, is also pronounced as “awsa”. They wrote one form of it in one manuscript and the other from in another manuscript. If those different forms had been written in the same manuscripts, it would have raised doubt that the word had been revealed twice.
Some words were pronounced differently because the dots were not used. For instance; it became possible to pronounce the word “fa tabayyanu” in the sixth verse of Chapter al-Hujurat as “fa tasabbatu” as a different qiraat when the dots were not used. Similarly, thanks to that orthography rule, the word “nunshizuha” in the 259th verse of Chapter al-Baqara is also pronounced as “Nunshiruha”. (See Zurqani, Manahilu’l-Irfan, I/257-258).
In addition, the word “Maalik” in Chapter al-Fatiha was written as “malik” (without an alif); thus, it became possible for the word to mean both owner and king. As you will appreciate, it is very difficult to show that difference using the Latin alphabet. However, we hope that it will be understood.
Since scholars did not agree on a certain seven qiraat, there naturally appeared more than seven types. Now, let us examine them separately:
1) The type that the haraka (sign written above or below a letter) changes but the spelling does not change
2) The type that the haraka changes but the meaning does not change:
3) The type that the letters and the meaning change but the appearance does not change:
4) The type that the letters and the appearance change but the meaning does not change:
5) The type that occurs when a word is replaced by another word without any change in meaning:
6) The type that occurs with a change in meaning and appearance:
7) The type that occurs when a letter is transformed to another letter of the same or close articulation point:
8) The type that occurs when two words are transposed:
9) The type that occurs due to an addition or lacking:
10) The different types of nouns in terms of being singular, dual or plural and masculine-feminine:
11) The type that occurs due to the different pronunciation by dialects:
In addition, more types can be mentioned apart from those types mentioned above. As it is seen, those who put forward the seven letters (qiraat) as seven types could not agree on a certain seven types. Moreover, they forced themselves to restrict the types as seven.
The words that are permitted to be pronounced in different forms in accordance with the permission of Seven Qiraat are very few. There are not any different kinds of pronunciation in most parts of the Quran.
The types of seven Qiraat cannot be expressed as contradiction and contrast. They should be evaluated as ease and mercy.
The Seven Letters expresses variety in reciting the Quran. It does not express controversy and contrast.
The word seven in the phrase “seven letters” does not mean seven. It shows multitude because in Sami languages, the numbers like seven, seventy, seven hundred are used to express multitude as in the other languages.
The fact that the Quran was sent down in the form of Seven Letters is ease for pronunciation not for spelling. It originated from the differences of dialects, styles, etc of people who recited the Quran differently in a period and place that the writing styles were not developed, writing materials were not abundant, people depended on oral culture rather than written culture and memorized and recited the Quran as much as they could. It was very difficult for some Arabs who could not read and write to recite the Quran orally. The issue of Seven Letters is a permission regarding the issue. And although that permission contained the differences in pronunciation not in spelling and writing, it is understood that some different words having the same meaning are also used. It was because the Glorious Quran was written by Quraishi scribes during the period of Makkah, and a group of Ansar (residents of Madinah) wrote the verses of the Quran in the period of Madinah. It was completed while Hazrat Prophet was alive. It was collected in one book during the period of Hazrat Abu Bakr; the correction of the manuscripted copies were completed during the period of Hazrat Uthman and they were sent to the cities that were under the sovereignty of Muslims.
In today’s conditions, it is not possible to read a text (the Quran), whose writing, harakas and spelling were completed, in different forms and with different words. It is because there exists a book (the Quran), which underwent all necessary acts to be read by people.