So you’ve heard about the fact that there are multiple variant readings of the Quran. You KNOW this but (maybe) you haven’t really understood the details or how this affects the validity of the Quran (or doesn’t). I have something big to share with you. I’m Abdullah Sameer, your Friendly Exmuslim.
You can now read an English translation that has these variants highlighted on a major Quran website. Imagine that! We’re at the point now in time where your average sites are adding Quran variants for the public to browse through. Why is this important? Because most Muslims are not fully aware of the existence of these variant readings and that they are considered “authoritative”. Although some variant readings are considered weaker, the major ones are all considered canonical and complementary. They are all considered “from Allah”, so to speak. So if we find contradictions between them, this is a problem. And now you can browse them yourself.
The work that is being used here is the Bridges’ Translation of the Ten Qira’at of the Noble Qur’an. As their page says, ‘Bridges’ translation aims to help non-Arabic readers in pondering the Qur’an (tadabbor). The translators focused not only on translating what God meant to say,but also on translating how He spoke.’
There are three main new features in this translation that make it unique. It is the first translation that includes the ten Qira’at (modes of recitation). The main text is written in accordance with the Qira’a of ʻAsem, narrated by Hafs. Variations from that are presented in footnotes denoted by ‘Q’. The translation presents around 30% of the variations of the Qira’at – those which affect the meaning.
Now it also has some other interesting features which we will not cover here but I’ll highlight them quickly. It is the first translation that takes into consideration the Qur’anic phenomenon of grammatical shifts, whether in verb tenses, numbers, or pronouns. These are a great source of pondering for the reader.
To denote whether a pronoun like ‘you’ or an imperative verb like ‘say’ is plural, dual, or singular, the translators did not impose their understanding on the reader by adding text between brackets like (O Prophet) to denote singular form, or (O mankind) to denote plural form. Rather, this distinction was achieved by adding a superscript after pronouns and imperative verbs. For example, you(pl) is used for a plural pronoun, you(sg) for a singular pronoun, and you(dl) for a dual pronoun. Arabic has a dual pronoun meaning you two. So this translation makes it clear whether it’s one person, two people, or multiple people being referred to when it says “You”. Something that is not clear in the English Language without adding words like O Prophet.
So where can you get this translation? You can obviously buy it on Amazon or your favorite local bookstore (if it still exists), or buy their PDF for 3 pounds, OR… You can read it for free on Quran.com. Here’s how it works – Go to Quran.com then go to the settings. Click on Translations, then add “Fadel Soliman, Bridges translation”. You can also add something to the website URL ‘?translations=149’ no any link on quran.com to directly show it without having to click around.
So why is this so interesting or even relevant? Let’s look at some examples where this makes a difference. In 18:86 when Dhul Qarnayn sees the sun setting in a murky spring, we can see that all except for Nafieʻ, Ibn Kathir, Abu ʻAmr, Hafs, and Yaʻqub read it as:“. . . in a hot spring . . .”. Not a big deal right? Either murky spring or hot spring.
Okay, let’s look at another. In 17:102 we have Moses speaking to Pharoah. In the original, it says “He said, “You[sg] have most surely known that none sent these down except the Lord of the heavens and the earth”. However, in the Kisai Qiraat, it says that Moses said, “I have most surely known . . .that no one sent you other than Allah.”
So now we have an interesting difference. Allah is quoting the speech, a conversation. It’s actually what people said. He said and she said But who said what? Did Moses say, ” Pharoah knows this” (meaning you know this and you’re rejecting God out of arrogance), or is he saying, “I know this”. I know that God is surely the one that sent this down (emphasizing his position as a prophet?) Both of them are considered valid.
This point is elaborated on in an excellent blog post by Avnar Sidiche where he points out that the Qurʼān contains narratives in which various prophets, angels and other characters are quoted as saying certain things on specific historical occasions. As elsewhere in the Qurʼān, variant readings in these passages are common.
A unique feature of dialogue variants is that when they differ substantially in meaning, they cannot be reconciled by the usual (and often strained) reasoning that both readings are valid. Either one thing could have been said on that occasion by the character or another, not both. It seems likely that such variation would be unintentional in the most glaring cases, or even more likely, they were changes that arose during transmission.
Another more example I have for you, In 20:96 when the Quran is questioning Samiri about why he made the calf of gold to worship, Samiri said to Moses: “I perceived what they did not perceive”. However, Hamza, Al-Kesa’i, and Khalaf read it as: “I perceived what you(pl) did not perceive . . .”
The difference here would be less relevant except for the fact that it’s again a speech. When Allah quotes speech, it has to be either one or the other. And it matters because this is divine revelation It can’t be both. Was Samiri telling Moses that he saw something the Israelites didn’t see? Or something Moses and the others didn’t see? There are a lot more examples like this in some of my previous blog posts here.
So the takeaway – check out this blog post and also browse these yourself on Quran.com. Simply enable their new Bridges Translation and you can see what the variant readings say and as the author said, this will help you “ponder” on the meanings so we should all ponder. Because if this is from Allah, every little tiny grammatical change matters. Since Allah is the creator, he did it for a particular reason. Now that these variant readings are becoming highlighted to the public, and to the majority of Muslims, we can now show one more way how the Quran falls apart. The links are below