The Variant Readings in Islamic Law

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Christopher Melchert



The accepted variant readings (qirāʾāt) of the Qurʾān have often been characterized as those that may be recited in the course of the ritual prayer. However, it appears on examination that premodern juridical handbooks laying out the rules governing the ritual prayer rarely discuss textual variants. When they do, it is almost always to rule out variants reportedly recited by Companions before the caliph ʿUthmān promulgated a single orthodox text. Also, contrary to what some scholars continue to allege, it is doubtful whether the acceptance of seven, ten, or any other number of accepted variant readings has been affected by judicial rulings or fatwas from jurisprudents backed by state power. What constrained specialists to restrict themselves to widely accepted variants was evidently fear not of the state but of disapproval from fellow specialists.


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