Does The Topkapi Mushaf Contain “2270 Variants” as Compared to Today’s Text?

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم

Does The Topkapi Mushaf Contain “2270 Variants” as Compared to Today’s Text?

By Quran and Bible Blog Contributor abusafiyah1

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The Topkapi muṣḥaf is an early Qur’ānic manuscript that contains more than 99% of the Quranic text and was most likely written in the 8th century CE. Dr. Tayyar Altikulaç explains that there are 2270 differences between the Topkapi muṣḥaf and the Muṣḥaf al-Madinah.[1] However, these differences only concern the spelling of words, and do not affect how the words are recited or the meanings of the words. He mentions that:

  • The words alā (على) and attā (حتى) appear in the Topkapi muṣḥaf written with an alif, as {علا} and {حتا} in more than 780 places.
  • The words bi āyātinā, bi āyātihi, bi āyāt, and bi āyātī are written with two yā’s instead of one as present in the Muṣḥaf al-Madinah, in more than 90 places.
  • Words such as yastayī, nastayī, nuyī are written in the Muṣḥaf al-Madinah with one yā’, but in the Topkapi muṣḥaf, they are written with two yā’s.

Before commenting on these specific differences, it is important to note that Muslim scholars have written extensively on the orthographic differences present in the various muṣḥafs they came across. The committee in charge of the Muṣḥaf al-Madinah consulted the works of rasm scholars for the spellings of words. They relied mainly on the works of two scholars–al-Dānī (d. 444) and Abū Dāwūd (d.496), with preference given to the latter at instances where the two scholars disagreed.

Regarding the spelling of ḥattā (حتى), al-Dānī states:

“I had seen it in an old muṣḥaf written with an alif, but there is no action upon this, due to its disagreement with [the spelling present in] the imām (the ‘Uthmānic muṣḥaf) and the regional muṣḥafs. Abū ʿUbayd [d. 224] states: And the words ʿalā (على), ladā (لدى) and ʾilā (إلى) were all written with a yā’. As for ḥattā, the vast majority were written with a yā’, but I saw it in some muṣḥafs with an ‘alif.[2]

The majority of the earliest Qur’ānic manuscripts – many of which were written earlier than the Topkapi muṣḥaf, were written with a yā’ in both ḥattā and ʿalā, in agreement with the spelling reported by Abū ʿUbayd and al-Dānī and what is present in the Muṣḥaf al-Madinah.

Al-Dānī mentions that he had seen the word bi āyāti (or bi āyātihi etc.) spelled in some muṣḥafs with two yā’s, and exclusively when the word begins with a bā’. However, he notes that the majority of muṣḥafs (of his time) had the spelling with one yā’. The vast majority of the earliest Qur’ānic manuscripts, however, spell these words with two yā’s. This is simply an archaic spelling practice–and modern muṣḥafs do show this spelling practice at the word bi ‘aydin (باييد), as it is spelled with two yā’s.

Lastly, words such as yastaare spelled with two yā’s in the Topkapi muṣḥaf, as well as several of the earliest Qur’ānic manuscripts. The presence of spelling differences between   muṣḥafs and early Qur’ānic manuscripts was not surprising to traditional scholars and was certainly never interpreted as “mistake” in the Qur’ān.

Are the original ‘Uthmānic muṣḥafs still in existence today?

Imām Mālik (d. 179) was reportedly asked about the muṣḥaf of ʿUthmān, to which Mālik replied: “It is gone”. There are several reports of later authorities such as Abū ʿUbayd (d. 224) who report what they had seen in “the muṣḥaf that is said to be that of ʿUthmān”. Many muṣḥafs that were clearly written later than the time of ʿUthmān began to be falsely attributed to him. However, this does not mean that the ‘original’ is not in existence today. It does, however, cause identifying the ‘true’ muṣḥaf of ʿUthmān to become a difficult task.

There are numerous Qur’ānic manuscripts that are dated to the 7th century CE. While most of these manuscripts are incomplete, they were clearly part of complete muṣḥafs. Marijn Van Putten argues based on studying the spelling of the phrase ni’mat Allāh present in these manuscripts that these manuscripts were accurately copied from a written exemplar. He concludes that:

“The manuscripts examined in this study are sufficiently early that a codification of the Uthmanic text type is perfectly consistent with an attribution to its traditional source: ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān.”[3]

[1] Tayyar Altıkulaç, Al-Mushaf Al-Sharif: Attributed to ʿUthmān Bin Affan (The Copy at the Topkapi Palace Museum) (Istanbul: IRCICA, 2007).

[2] Al-Dānī, al-Muqni’ fī Rasm Maṣāḥif al-Amṣār (Beirut: Dār al-Bashāʾir al-Islāmiyya, 2016).

[3] Marijn Van Putten, “‘The Grace of God’ as Evidence for a Written ʿUṯmānic Archetype: The Importance of Shared Orthographic Idiosyncrasies, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 82, no. 2 (2019): 287.

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