Question: I would like to ask a question about the Riwāyah of Ḥafṣ from Imām ʿĀṣim. Is this the first Qirāʾah (Reading) of the Qurʾān? Why is it more prevalent in the world than the other Readings? Is it the most grammatically eloquent of the Readings, or is it the easiest? Is this the Reading that was recited by the Companions the most? Why is the Riwāyah of Shuʿbah not as prevalent, since he was also a transmitter from Imām ʿĀṣim?
Answer by Shaykh Muḥammad al-ʿArīfī:
All praise is for Allah, the Noble and Graceful One, the One who showers blessings and excellence, the One Merciful to His friends, Who brings them out of darkness into light and guides them to the even way. Blessings are invoked for the one who was sent as a mercy to the worlds, and upon his family, companions and those who followed his guidance and practiced his way until the Day of Judgment. To proceed:
Every generation has witnessed a group of people concerned with memorizing the Noble Qurʾān and transmitting its reading. However, when disputes arose in the ummah surrounding the various ways the ʿUthmānic muṣḥafs were being read, from matters such as the vowels, the imālah pronunciation, the assimilation of certain letters, differences regarding the hamzah letter and other features of the different modes of reading, the people of knowledge agreed to choose from each region a well-known scholar of the Qurʾān who was known for his trustworthiness, reliability and precision, so that the people could take the Qurʾān from them, so long as these Readings were transmitted in a multiplicitous manner (tawātur), conformed with the ʿUthmānic script and were broadly consistent with the principles of Arabic grammar.
And so the Readings of seven Imāms became well-known at the head of the third Hijrī century. In the early fourth century, Ibn Mujāhid in Baghdād gathered and documented the Readings of the people of Madīnah, Makkah, Baṣrah and Kūfah according to these seven Imāms. Following his time, three more Imāms were added—Abū Jaʿfar, Yaʿqūb and Khalaf—as well as four Imāms selected with irregular (shādh) readings. Many books were written on the subject, until the matter settled on the selection of these ten Imāms along with their transmitters, which continues to this day.
Today this knowledge is transmitted and read through the texts of al-Shāṭibiyyah, al-Durrah and Tayyibat al-Nashr.
Therefore, some of the reasons for the dissemination of the reading of Ḥafṣ on the authority of Imām ʿĀṣim are as follows:
1. There simply was no obligation to recite the Qurʾān by all of the Readings. Allah states in the Qurʾān, So recite that which is easy for you from it, and establish the prayer and disseminate the charity and lend to Allah a goodly loan. Imām Bukhārī related from the Prophet that he said, Indeed the Qurʾān was revealed upon seven ways (aḥruf) so recite from them whatever is easy for you; and Imām Muslim relates that Jibrīl said to the Prophet, Verily Allah orders you to recite the Qurʾān to your ummah in seven ways (aḥruf), and in whichever way they recite, they would be right. All of this proves the permissibility of choosing what is easy and the fact that there is no obligation to recite in all the Readings, for had it been so, there would have been much greater diligence observed with all the Readings such that they would all be widely disseminated like the Reading of Ḥafṣ.
So this is a major factor which causes the majority of people to leave those Readings that require more effort, with the exception of those who have been blessed with the stamina and desire to pursue this discipline. By Allah’s grace, there are many such people, and even in these times the pursuing of this great knowledge has increased. I remember a time when every major city had about one institute devoted to the Qurʾānic Readings, but now there are such institutes in every neighborhood.
So since the Reading of Ḥafṣ happened to be easy and natural for a certain region—as will be elaborated in point four—its acceptance among the people naturally increased with regards to its recitation, memorization and study.
2. The Reading of Ḥafṣ on the authority of Imām ʿĀṣim became well-known in Kūfah, which was the capital of the Caliphate at the time, so much so that the scholars and seekers of knowledge flocked there to learn it. This was helped by the fact that Imām Ḥafṣ had more time than his peers for teaching the Qurʾān. When the capital was moved to Baghdād, Ḥafṣ also moved there. In addition, he spent time teaching in Makkah, which was naturally a meeting place of the scholars of the Islamic world. Later, the new capital of the Caliphate, Baghdād, also became a center for scholars and students, and its population began to increase due to the abundances of living that were found there. And so the reading of Ḥafṣ also became popular in Baghdād. Many people began taking this Reading and spread it to the other lands, especially eastwards because in the west the reading of Warsh and Abū ʿAmr were more prevalent. So this greater attention to the reading of Ḥafṣ during this time, including the writing of muṣḥafs corresponding with this reading, are a strong reason and practical driving force in its spread and dissemination. So what appears to be the case is that this reading continued to move with the state from one era to the next, with regards to its readings, study and writing in the muṣḥafs, until our time today.
3. The perfection of Ḥafṣ in his transmission from Imām ʿĀṣim and his strong chain are also strong factors in the dissemination of this reading. Imām al-Shāṭibī alluded to this in his poem:
فَأَمَّا أَبُو بَكْرٍ وَعَاصِمٌ اسْمُهُ فَشُعْبَةُ رَاوِيهِ المُبَرِّزُ أَفْضَلاَ
وَذَاكَ ابْنُ عَيَّاشٍ أَبُو بَكْرٍ الرِّضَا وَحَفْصٌ وَبِاْلإتْقَانِ كانَ مُفضَّلاَ
… And Ḥafṣ who with perfection was preferred to others . . .
And that was because Ḥafṣ was the son of the wife of Imām ʿĀṣim (i.e. his stepson) and therefore lived in the same house. Abū ʿAmr al-Dānī said, “He was the one who truly acquired the Reading of Imām ʿĀṣim from among the people, settled in Baghdād to teach the Reading, and also periodically visited Makkah to teach as well.” Ibn al-Munādī said, “The earlier scholars considered him superior to Abū Bakr ibn ʿAyāsh Shuʿbah (the other transmitter from Imām ʿĀṣim) in preserving the Reading from Imām ʿĀṣim, and taught for a long period. The Reading he related from Imām ʿĀṣim goes through the Companion ʿAlī, may Allah be pleased with him (in terms of his isnād).” So the jurists and scholars praised his perfection and accuracy in transmitting the Reading of Imām ʿĀṣim, which led to a fervent acceptance of his transmission.
4. The Reading of Ḥafṣ is indeed easy to articulate—and human nature inclines to ease—without significant effort as compared to other Readings, such as those of the people of Kūfah. For instance, there is increased imālah in the Readings of Ḥamzah, al-Kisāʾī and Khalaf from Kūfah, as well longer durations of madd and periodic pauses on the hamzah following the sukūn. The Readings of Ḥamzah and Hishām require stops on the hamzah. The Reading of al-Kisāʾī requires imālah on the hā of feminine words when stopping on them, while the Reading of Warsh requires long madd durations, and the Reading of Qālūn allows an extra vowel (ṣilah) on the plural meem, as well as both shortening and lengthening of Madd al-Munfaṣil.. There is also a recurring extra vowel in the Readings of Ibn Kathīr of Makkah, Abū Jaʿfar of Madīnah, and lots of assimilation in the Transmission of al-Sūsī from Abū ʿAmr, and extensive ways of dealing with adjacent hamzah letters in the Readings of Nāfiʿ, Ibn Kathīr, Abū ʿAmr and Ibn ʿĀmir. So this is another factor that affects the acceptance of the transmission of Ḥafṣ.
5. The printing of Qurʾānic muṣḥaf corresponding to the Reading of Ḥafṣ is another foundational factor in the dissemination of this Reading across the ages, especially in our times with the rise of various forms of publication, such that you will find these copies of the Qurʾān in every place of the world. There is a small reaction from the lands of North Africa and Morocco to counter this widespread dissemination of the Ḥafṣ Reading by printing their own muṣḥafs.
6. The audio and video broadcasts in all their forms from the earliest times to our era have predominantly been in the Ḥafṣ Reading. This is an obvious and visible matter. The first voice recording of the Qurʾān in the Islamic world was with the voice of Shaykh Maḥmūd Khalīl al-Ḥuṣarī in the transmission of Ḥafṣ.
7. Most of the schools, institutes, universities and colleges in the regions of the world have been teaching the Qurʾān with the transmission of Ḥafṣ. Even in the institutes devoted to all the Readings, the studies begin with the recitation, memorization and principles of Ḥafṣ, after which the other authentic ten Reading are taught, as well as the four irregular Readings.
8. The primary and likely the strongest reason is that Allah the Mighty and Exalted placed in the world the widespread acceptance of this Transmission for reasons we may or may not know, which does not negate the other Readings in any way, nor does it detract from their worth, for they all represent the speech of the Lord of the worlds and the revelation from the All-Wise and Praiseworthy One. And Allah knows best.
We invite the specialists in this discipline to exert themselves in spreading and circulating this knowledge among the Muslims, including recording and broadcasting the Readings to the people so that they may recite and study them, and inspiring them with this knowledge, and adopting the means that would facilitate the Readings for them so that they may know the words of Allah in all their sweetness and beauty.
We ask Allah for Divine felicitation, propriety and good deeds.
—Shaykh Muḥammad al-ʿArīfī
Taken from 3refe.com. translation by Abu Zayd