Tajwid or the Science of Quran Recitation

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Tajwid is a special type of Islamic scholarly discipline that determines the rules for reading and reciting the Quran. This science began to take shape already during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), when he himself spoke to his companions about the existence of seven different forms of reading the Quran (seven harfs), and continued throughout Islamic history in the form of recitation systems called qiraats.

Each qiraat follows a melodic tone of speech, intonation, pauses and accents which are its own unique characteristic. The tradition of qiraats goes back to the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and is transmitted through a chain of transmitters in the same way as the hadith of the Sunnah. And just like the hadith it is of the utmost importance for the correct profession of Islam.

No Nonchalant Recitation

The Quran is not your ordinary book, it is the Divine revelation of Allah. When we spread open its pages and place it in front of us, what we have before our eyes are the letters and words sent down by God, the Creator of all things. The mere appearance of these divine words evokes sacred awe in every Muslim. Needless to say that it is with the same trepidation that the Muslim dares to envelop these written divine words into the divine sounds of a spoken utterance. The Quran cannot be recited “nonchalantly”, at one’s own will and pleasure. Such a reading would be blasphemy against its divine nature and a sin. That is why Muslim scholars and readers carefully passed on this or that tradition, this or that qiraat from century to century,

A Qiraat can be compared to productions of the same theatrical play by different directors. One director will make his actor sit down as he pronounces a phrase, the other will make him stand up as he does the same, one will shout it at the top of his voice, another will say it in a whisper, one will take a pause, the other will speak without stopping. These will be two different productions, but inside the production the rules will remain the same from performance to performance. So, for example, if we know that a ballet is choreographed by Marius Petipa, then we will expect that there will be a ‘battement’ in such and such a place, and a ‘grand plie’ in another. And their order will always be the same.

Quraysh Dialect

Seven Harfs are the dialects of seven Arab tribes, including the Quraysh tribe, to which the Prophet Muhammad belonged (peace be upon him). This variety of harfs is understandable. Traditionally, the Arabic script did not use vowel marks, the so-called ‘vocalizations’, so in pronunciation they could have differences between dialects. The Third Rightly Guided Caliph Uthman, having collected together all the texts of the Quran, ordered to add to the written version the vocalization marks in accordance with the Quraysh dialect, which was spoken by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

This is how the canonical edition of the Quran known to us today appeared. Another interpretation of the harf is a version of reading that is understandable to a particular social group, namely, to the educated and the illiterate, the slaves and the freemen, the rich and the poor, etc.

Expert Reciters

The number of qiraats is assessed differently by different theologians. Some say that there are seven of them, too, some name 10, others 14. The formation of qiraats continued all the way up to the 11th century CE. Such scholars as Nasr ibn Asim, Yahya ibn Yamur, a well-known hadith scholar and author of hadith collections Abu Dawood had done a great deal of work in tracking the transmission chains and comparing the reliability of a particular version of recitation. Ibn Mujahid (859-936), one of the most famous reciters and experts in qiraats, singled out the qiraats of Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Basr and Kufa. Some scholars of Tajwid divide the Kufa qiraat into three independent schools.

In our time, the qiraat of the imam from Kufa Asim ibn Abin-Najud (died in 744) as transmitted by his disciple Hafs has become ubiquitous. It is this qiraat that all students of modern madrasahs and universities study in the Tajwid course. In addition to it there remain two more qiraats in limited use, the Medina qiraat of Imam Nafti al-Madani (died in 785) and the Basr qiraat of Imam Abu Amr, which he received from the companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) Malik ibn Anas (currently this qiraat remains in use only in certain regions of Sudan).

Tajwid is a special linguistic discipline, which differs from the study of the “everyday” Arabic language by special reading rules, and every Muslim who wants to carry his prayer to Allah in the same way as did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions, must master at least the basic rules of tajwid and qiraat.