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.

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

  1. Adolf Hitter

    Hi, once someone said that the Iliad and Odyssey were also preserved with memorization and thus the Qur’ans preservation is not supernatural. Is it true? I have seen no evidence that the Iliad and Odyssey were memorized, however I dont think if Papyrus was mass produced or if inscriptions were mass produced.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not quite sure what you mean by supernatural, oral traditions were common in ancient times, from the greek epics to the torah and even the vedas etc all are said to be orally preserved, what differentiates them from the Quran is methodology of transmission and certainty in regards to authenticity, if you undertook a quellenforschung for all the texts mentioned above, the Quran will always come out on top

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Adolf Hitter

        How old is the “oral” tradition of the Vedas? I have heard that it’s inconsistent. And no trace of any hindu scripture seems to survive from before near 2000 years ago.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hard to tell how old it is, the oldest parts surely dates back to the Aryans (i.e 1800 BCE) as it speaks of wars with dark skinned tribes and phallus worshippers, textually speaking the oldest manuscripts are from medieval times but none of them are complete speaking from a traditional POV

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Adolf Hitter

        But is there significant conflict between veda manuscripts and the current veda oral tradition regardless of whether the manuscripts are complete or not?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Adolf Hitter

        And I was asking about the age of oral tradition of veda rather than age of it’s contents. A book could exist for a while, get changed and gain an oral tradition after the changes made, but I do not know when the oral tradition of veda started to exist.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. “And I was asking about the age of oral tradition of veda rather than age of it’s contents.”

        Difference is?

        “A book could exist for a while, get changed and gain an oral tradition after the changes made, but I do not know when the oral tradition of veda started to exist.”

        That’s why I was speaking about the “oldest *parts*”

        “But is there significant conflict between veda manuscripts and the current veda oral tradition regardless of whether the manuscripts are complete or not?”

        Being incomplete is the conflict, there are missing mantras and samhitas not only between the oldest manuscripts but also with the printed vedas we have now, scholarship have their obvious ways of rationalizing it but it’s still conflicting nonetheless

        Liked by 1 person

      1. stewjo004

        @ Adolf

        What Eddie said:

        1. Arabs were illiterate and took the Greeks a while
        2. Most books of antiquity aren’t that great again just use the Bible as an example


    1. Adolf Hitter

      Although illiteracy is a very weak argument, I know that the Jewish oral tradition didn’t work well, since DSS contains significant enough difference with Masoretic text. But I couldn’t find much textual history of veda.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Adolf Hitter

    Hi, is there a way to prove that Hafs (the Quran transmitter) was more reliable than Shu’ba and Amr ibn Ala, other Quran transmitters under the same teacher as Hafs, if they even differ? small variances are explainable as common human errors. Although Hafs ultimately had the most authentic source, it’s said that his teacher rejected the pre-Uthmanic Qur’an, allegedly written by Abdullah Ibn Masud, however this claim is most likely false as Uthman destroyed other Qur’ans, so it’s very unlikely that another Qur’an survived.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Noone says Hafs is more reliable or less reliable, Hafs is just most widely used, you have multiple readings of the Quran, all of them which go back to the Sahaba are correct and are accepted, those which don’t, don’t exist anymore as they never became widespread.

    As for Amr Ibn Ala, I assume you’re referring to the Warsh and Qalun readings of the Quran, but these too, go back to the Sahaba r.a through Ibn Shihab Al Zuhri who learned from Said Ibn Al Musayyib.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Adolf Hitter

      Historically speaking, popularity was most likely not the reason Al Azhar chose it. Before Al Azhar chose it no Qur’an reading was popular enough to lead to all the others being neglected. All Qur’an readings may have been equally/closely famous had Al Azhar not chosen Hafs or any other major Qira’at.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hafs was popularized by the Ottomans who used that reading prior to Al Azhar choosing it so it was already popularized by then if you look at all the Ottoman era manuscripts, the large majority of them are in Hafs reading, as for Shu’bah and Qalun and Warsh, also, just because Hafs has been chosen by Al Azhar for their printing, doesn’t mean they believe Shu’bah and Qalun and Warsh are somehow less authentic or problematic, the Ulema believe all these reading to be authentic.


    2. Adolf Hitter

      And what is the meaning of those dots placed in Shu’ba’s qira’at under طه? it has to do with pronounciation since Arabic diacritics were not widespread back then, but I don’t know what those dots mean.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The two dots represent a “ye” sound similar to a Kasra, hence you’d pronounce Taha as Tayhe, you can see this in Abdurrashid Sufis recitation of the entire Shu’bah an Asim reading.


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