Tuesday, October 28, 2008



The third step in the development of the orthography of the masahif was that undertaken by al-Khalil Ibn Ahmad (d. 170/786), who introduced a new system of symbols (harakat) for i’rab.

It was not applied immediately to the masahif, for the scribes disliked what they called naqt al-shi’r and were unwilling to use this new system in place of naqt i’rab of Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali, which they were used to and regarded as the way of the salaf.( al-Muhkam, 22,34)

This symbols of al-Khalil Ibn Ahmad eventually dominated and replaced naqt al-i’rab. In addition, he introduced into his new system of orthography the signs of hamz, tashdid, rawm and ishmam.(al-Muhkam, 6)

The consonantal spelling of the Qur’an remained unaltered, because most scholars opposed any change.

They argued that the masahif should remained as they have come to us from the Companions and the orthography is tawqif.(al-Muhkam, 17)

Abu ‘Ubayd, Malik Ibn Anas, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and al-Bayhaqi are reported to have objected to any change in the orthography of the masahif.(al-Burhan fi ‘ulum al-Qur’an, 1: 379-88)

Al-Zamakshari supported this view when he stated that “the orthography of the masahif is sunnah and should not be changed” (al-Kashshaf, 3:265)

Certain scholars argued, however, that the orthography of the masahif is convention and that people may write their masahif in accordance with the new orthography.

Ibn al-Baqillani is reported to have supported this view, stating that there is no evidence from al-Qur’an or the sunnah and that there is no fixed way of writing.

Thus, in his view, any orthography that gives the correct reading and is easy to follow is permitted. (Tafsir al-Maraghi, 1:13-14)

Ibn Khaldun supported this view and argued that the art of orthography is merely conventional, that it was not perfect when the masahif were compiled.

He also added that there is no sound reason for retaining the old orthography, and that there is no valid argument against writing the masahif according to the new system. (al-Muqaddimah, 457)

Finally, Syeikh al-Islam al-’Izz Ibn ‘Abd Salam maintained that it is not only permitted but necessary that the masahif should be written according to the new orthography so that uneducated people may not fall into error..(al-Burhan fi ‘ulum al-Qur’an, 1: 379)

Al-Zarkashi opted for this view, while adding that the ‘Uthmanic orthography also should be preserved and kept as a precious inheritance.(al-Burhan fi ‘ulum al-Qur’an, 1: 379)

However, according to the general belief, the orthography of the masahif should not be altered since, as Ibn al-Jazari says, this orthography accommodates the variant readings of the Qur’an in accordance with the revelation of the Qur’an in seven ahruf.(Nashr, 1:12)

Al-Dani states that the differences among the masahif in preserving or omitting certain letters and words is because of the need to preserve all the ahruf revealed to the Prophet and received by the Companions. (al-Muqni’, 114)

The most practical way of dealing with this problem may be that adopted in certain masahif intended for learners, in which the words that differ in writing from the comtemporary orthography are explained in the margin.(This method was adopted recently in ‘Abd Jalil ‘Isa, Mushaf al Muyassar and Mushaf al-Shuruq al-Mufassar.)

The next step, after the introduction of vocalization and diacritic points, was the addition of surah titles with an indication of their beginings and endings(al-Muhkam, 16-17), and the place of their revelation (tarikh al-mushaf al-Syarif, 78).

Furthermore, the verses were divided into portions of akhmas (five) and ‘asyar (ten) (tarikh al-mushaf al-Syarif, 14-15).

Then the mushaf was divided into thirty parts (ajza’), each juz’ into two divisions (hizb), and each hizb into four arba’. (al-Burhan, Tarikh al-Mushaf al-Syarif, 78).

In addition, signs were introduced for all the above-mentioned innovations and were introduced in different colors into the masahif in their manuscript forms

However, these colored signs, which existed as long as the masahif were written by hand, could not continue with the appearance of printed texts because of the difficulty in dealing with them in the printing press.

The calligraphy of the masahif remained unchanged in the kufic form until the late fourth century .(al-Kurdi, Tarikh al-Qur’an, 160)

A new development in this field was the introduction of khatt al-thuluth and then naskh, which eventually dominated.

Khatt al-naskh is considered the most beautiful one for the masahif.

Other kinds, like ruq’ah, diwani, farisi, siyaqah and shikastah are unsuitable for the masahif, because the rules dictate that they should not be vocalized, while the masahif should be vocalized to save the reader from committing errors.