A Re-Evaluation of Early Developments in Qur’anic Orthography (4/4)

A Re-Evaluation of Early Developments in Qur’anic Orthography (4/4)


The following works however cite that al-Khalīl was responsible for this endeavour:

i. Al-Muhkam[1] by al-Dānī (d. 444 AH). He records that Abū al-Hasan ibn Kaysān reported this from Muhammad ibn Yazīd al-Mubarrad (d. 285 AH)

ii.Alif bā'[2] by al-Balawī (d. 604 AH)

iii. Al-Wasīlah ilā Kashf al-'aqīlah[3] by al-Sakhāwī (d. 643 AH)

iv. Al-Itqān[4] by al-Suyutī (d. 911 AH)

Following are some of the contemporary works that refer to this endeavour of al-Khalīl:

i. Al-Sabīl ilā dabt kalimāt al-tanzīl[5]by Ahmad Muhammad Abū Zaytahār (d. 1413 AH)

ii. Hayāt al-lughah al-'arabiyyah[6]by Hifnī Bik Nāsif (d. 1337 AH)

iii. Qissah al-kitābah al-'arabiyyah[7]by Ibrāhīm Jumu'ah

Given the paucity of mention in overwhelmingly large number of sources, the ascription of this endeavour to al-Khalīl seems to stand on slippery grounds.

D. Manuscript Evidence

A little deliberation on the traditional accounts of the development of vocalization and diacritics in Qur'ānic orthography shows that the vocalization of the mushaf was completed first. Once this was done, only then came the phase of putting diacritics to distinguish similar graphemes.[8] Thus these accounts entail that there should be some early Qur'ānic masāhif even in partial which are fully vocalized with red dots but have no black dots as diacritic marks to distinguish letters because the diacritical phase came almost three decades after the vocalization phase. Similarly there should be no masāhif which only have black dots to mark diacritics and no red dots to mark vocalization because the latter preceded the former.

On the contrary, empirical evidence shows the reverse: the earliest Qur'anic manuscripts (hijāzī manuscripts) and some of the early Kufic ones also[9] do have black dots to mark diacritics even though sparingly; they do not have red dots for vocalization. No Hijāzī manuscript has thus far been discovered which has only red dots to mark vocalization.

Here are some examples:

i. Sūrah Ibrāhīm, verses 19-44. Location: not known. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. No vocalization but diacritics present sparingly in the form of dots and angled dashes.[10]

ii. Codex Ṣan'ā DAM 01-27.1. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: al-Maktabah al-Sharqiyyah and Dār al-Makhṭūtāt, Ṣanʿāʾ, Yemen. Also at the David Collection, Copenhagen, and other private collections. Miscellaneous verses. These palimpsests have a few diacritical marks with no vocalization and sūrah titles.[11] In a recent study of this codex, Sadeghi has concluded that its scriptio inferior belongs to the period of the companions of Muhammad (sws), whilst its scriptio superior belongs to the ʿUthmānic tradition.[12]

iii. No number. Sūrah An'ām, verses 5-20. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: Maktabah al-Jāmi' al-Kābir, San'ā (Yemen). Diacritics present.[13]

iv. Side A: Sūrah Muddaththir, verses 1-27; Side B: Sūrah Muddaththir, verses 34-56. The Sotheby's 2004 fragment contains Sūrah Hūd, verses 73-95. 1st century hijrah. Location: A private collection in London. Script is Kufic. Consonants are sparsely differentiated.[14]

v. Arabe 328a. Miscellaneous verses. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City; Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, London. Occasional diacritical strokes. There is no vocalization. Reading of Ibn 'Āmir.[15]

vi. MS. Or. 2165. Miscellaneous verses. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Studied by Instisar Rabb and reassigned the reading of Hims. Location: British Library, London UK. The consonants are frequently differentiated by dashes.[16]

vii. LNS 19 CAab. Surah Mā'idah, verse 89 to Sūrah An'ām, verse 12. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: Dār al-Athar al-Islāmiyyah, Kuwait. This manuscript bears a striking resemblance to the British Museum Ms. Or. 2165. The consonants are frequently differentiated by dashes.[17]

viii. 1611-mkh235. Sūrah Mā'idah, verses 7-12. 1st century hijrah. Script is early kufic. Location: Bayt al-Qur'ān, Manama, Bahrain. Diacritics present.[18]

ix. Ms. Qāf 47. Miscellaneous Verses. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Germany, and Dār al-Kutub al-Misriyyah, Cairo. The consonants are differentiated by dashes.[19]

x. QUR-1-TSR. Sūrah Mā'idah, verses 18-29. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: Tareq Rajab Museum, Kuwait. The consonants are frequently differentiated by dashes.[20]

xi. Codex Ṣan'ā DAM 01-25.1. Miscellaneous verses. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: Dār al-Makhtūtāt, Ṣan'ā, Yemen. There are few diacritical marks.[21]

xii. DAM 01-29.1 Miscellaneous verses. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: Dār al-Makhtutāt, Ṣanā, Yemen. There are few diacritical marks.[22]

xiii. M. 1572.Miscellaneous verses. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK. The consonants are differentiated by dashes. The muṣḥaf is partly vocalized with red dots by a later (?) hand.[23]

xiv. No number. 1st century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: Not known. Diacritical marks, where present, consists of oval dots or angled dashes.[24]

xv. DAM 01-28.1. Miscellaneous verses. 1st – 2nd century hijrah. The script is Hijāzi. Location: Dār al-Makhtūtāt, Ṣan'ā, Yemen. Diacritical marks are frequent.[25]

xvi. Codex Ṣan'ā DAM 01-18.3.Sūrah Anfāl, verses 2-11 and 41-46. 1st – 2nd century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: Dār al-Makhtūtāt, Ṣan'ā, Yemen. Few diacritical marks.[26]

xvii. Codex Ṣan'ā DAM 01-30.1 Miscellaneous verses. 2nd century hijrah. The script is Hijāzī. Location: Dār al-Maktūtāt, Ṣan'ā, Yemen. Few diacritical marks.[27]

xviii. Codex Ṣan'ā DAM 01-29.2. Miscellaneous verses. 2nd century hijrah. The script is kufic. Location: Dār al-Makhtūtāt, Ṣanā, Yemen.Diacritical marks are sparsely distributed.[28]

It may be of further interest to note that Giorgio Levi Della Vida (d. 1967) has published one of the earliest partial Qur'ān masāhif on parchment. It belongs to the first century and is found in the Vatican Library. It begins with the fourth verse of Sūrah Hūd. Diacritical dots are apparent.[29]

IV. Conclusion

In the light of this analysis, it can be gathered that the way traditional Muslim sources ascribe the introduction of vocalization and diacritics to certain personalities in the first century of Islam is not sound. The roles alleged to have been played by Abū al-Aswad al-Du'alī, Nasr ibn 'Āsim and Yahyā ibn Ya'mar cannot be established historically through reliable means. Empirical evidence also negates the traditional Muslim account. Even the alleged development made by al-Khalīl ibn Ahmad al-Farāhīdī in vocalization symbols stands on slippery ground.

However, as far as the scheme of vocalization and diacritics (both initially represented by dots) is concerned, it does clearly appear in the early manuscripts discovered. So the question arises on the origin of this scheme. Who was responsible for it?

As far as the dotting of similar letters is concerned, it can be said with reasonable certainty that these dots were invented with the invention of the alphabet. They were however sparingly used in writing the Qur'ān since the reliance was primarily on oral transmission. It seems that as written Qur'āns became more pervasive to cater for the need of converts and for the teaching of children etc the sparingly used dots gradually gave way to dots being used everywhere on the letters that needed it. The scheme of dotting similar letter thus would not require that its originator be researched into and it be ascribed to particular individuals.

As far as vocalization is concerned, it seems quite plausible that this is something which perhaps the Arabs borrowed from the Syriac tradition to which they were exposed. Versteegh (b. 1947)[30]has pointed out the striking correlation between the Arabic signs fatha, kasrah and dammah and the Syriac signs pētāhā (opening), hēbāsā (pushing) and ēsāsā (contraction). In all probability, the Syriac signs were also represented by sublinear and supralinear dots.[31]When exactly was this dot notation introduced in Qur'ānic manuscripts cannot be said with certainty. Manuscript studies may help us ascertain this fact.

It would thus be better to give up the long-standing view of ascribing to certain personalities the origination of nuqat meant both for vocalization and diacritics. Similarly, if it is correct to conclude that al-Khalīl ibn Ahmad al-Farāhīdī had no role in the second vocalization phase in which the dot notation was changed to the dash/stroke notation, then the question may be posed: Who was responsible for this? To the best of my knowledge, the available material on this subject does not give a clue to the answer of this question. However, this development may have been the handiwork of an innovative scribe who deemed black dotted notation for diacritcs and the red dotted notation of vocalization were becoming cumbersome for the scribes and confusing for the readers. His idea obviously was then picked up by many others. However, this is merely a conjecture and at the moment lacks historical corroboration.

[1]. Al-Dānī, Al-Muhkam, 314.

[2]. Abū al-Hajjāj al-Balawī, Alif bā', vol. 1, 176.

[3]. Abū al-Hasan 'Alam al-din 'Alī ibn Muhammad al-Sakhāwī, Al-Wasīlah ilā Kashf al-'aqīlah, 2nd ed. (Riyad: Maktabah al-rushd li aal-nashr wa al-tawzī', 1424), 71; Ibid. 73.

[4]. Al-Suyūtī, Al-Itqān, vol 4, 186.

[5]. Ahmad Muhammad Abū Zaytahār,Al-Sabīl ilā dabt kalimāt al-tanzīl, 1st ed. (Kuwait: Mashrū' ri'āyah al-qur'ān al-karīm fī al-masājid, 1430 AH), 21.

[6]. Hifnī Nāsif, Hayāt al-lughah al-'arabiyyah, 96.

[7]. Ibrāhīm al-Jumu'ah, Qissah al-kitābah al-'arabiyyah, 53.

[8]. Thus Dr al-Farmāwī also has pointed towards this sequence. See: Dr al-Farmāwī, Rasm al-mushaf, 458.

[9]. It is known from manuscript studies that the hijāzī Qur'āns generally pre-date the Kufic ones.

[12]. B. Sadeghi & U. Bergmann, "The Codex Of A Companion Of The Prophet And The Qur'ān Of The Prophet", Arabica, 2010, Volume 57, Number 4, pp. 348-354.

[29]. For its image, see: Salāh al-Dīn al-Munajjid, Tārīkh al-khatt al-'arabī, 25.

[30].Kees Versteegh, Arabic Grammar and Qur'ānic Exegesis in Early Islam (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993), 30.

[31].This is evident from the representation of two other closely related terms zēqāfā (raising of the tongue) and rēbāsā (lowering of the tongue) represented by a supralinear dot (ā) and a sublinear dot(ē) respectively. See: Versteegh, Arabic Grammar and Qur'ānic Exegesis in Early Islam, 30.

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