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The Origins of the Variant Readings of the Qur’an

The Qurʾān is the literal word of God, the sacred scripture of the Islamic faith, and God’s final revelation to humanity. This single text produced the largest and most diverse civilization ever to exist on Earth, and for one and a half millennia it has been recited, memorized, and practiced by billions of human beings across the globe. Entire libraries of books have been devoted to the study of the text’s revelation, preservation, recitation, and interpretation. Yet, one aspect of the Qurʾān that continues to astound and puzzle researchers has been the fact that Qurʾānic verses are recited in diverse ‘modes of recitation’ (qirāʾāt). These different modes utilize different rules (termed usūl) regarding the prolongation, intonation, and pronunciation of words, in addition to differences in the vowelization or letters of particular words in individual passages in the Qurʾān (termed farsh). Thus, the words of the Qurʾān can be divided into two categories: those words that can only be read one way (which constitute the majority of the Qurʾān),[1] and those words that can be read in multiple ways (which constitute the basis of the qirāʾāt).