Sometimes, I notice that objections are raised regarding the ‘perfect’ preservation of the Qur’anic text. The Uthmanic recension, the Yemeni text, and the Hafs and Warsh readings are some of the most frequently mentioned disqualifiers. For instance, please see the following web-link: http://www.answering-islam.org/Green/seven.htm.
My question is: Is it correct to say that the process of tawatur “consistent generation-to-generation verbal perpetuation and oral transmission” stands perfectly preserved independent of any written tradition that was a natural by-product of the oral tradition? That is, does the authenticity of the Qur’an rest safely on tawatur alone, regardless of any variations or discrepancies in the written tradition? If the answer to this question is ‘yes,’ then we must ask where the corruption in the written tradition came from, if not from some sort of corruption in the oral tradition (that later manifested itself in the written). I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this matter.
Firstly, it should be kept in mind that the ‘Tawatur’ (verbal perpetuation) of the Qur’an actually implies that since the times of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) till the present times, the Qur’an has been transmitted from each generation, as a whole, to its subsequent generation. This elaboration has two important features:
The Qur’an has not been transmitted on the authority of one, two or a few individuals. On the contrary, in each of the generations, since the time of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh), the whole generation of the mainstream Muslims as a collectivity, transmitted the Qur’an to its subsequent generation. There has never been a generation, since the time of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh), in which the text of the Qur’an either became extinct or limited to a few people only. The Tawatur of the Qur’an would be deemed to have been broken, if it is established that in a given generation between the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) and the present times, there was a generation, in which the Qur’an had either become extinct or limited to a very few people only;
There can be a number of texts of the Qur’an, as any individual or group of individuals may conspire to promote their own fake version of the book, but a text of the Qur’an cannot be said to have achieved ‘Tawatur’, unless it meets the aforementioned criteria.
Keeping these points in perspective, it is quite clear that even though references to alternative readings of the Qur’an can indeed be found in commentaries and the writings of the Muslim jurists, yet the only reading of the Qur’an, which reaches the level of ‘Tawatur’, is only the one referred to as the “Qiraa`at al-`aammah” (the reading of the masses). None of the other so-called ‘Mutawatir’ readings meets the criteria of actually enjoying ‘Tawatur’, even though many Muslims hold them as such.
I hope this helps.
December 26, 2001