Order of the Verses and Chapters

A verse(text) of the Qur’aan is called an “ aayah,” which literally means a sign or token by which a person or thing is known, and a chapter is referred to as a “ soorah,” which literally means enclosure or wall. The order of the aayahs in each soorah was set by the Prophet () himself, as is indicated in a number of hadeeths (recorded sayings or actions of the Prophet []). For example, ‘Uthmaan ibn Abee al-‘Aas said,

“ Once while I was sitting with Allaah’s Messenger (), he rolled his eyes upwards in a stare, then after a while he lowered them and said,‘Jibreel came to me and ordered me to place this aayah in this place in this soorah:

Verily Allaah commands justice, kindness, and charity to close relatives.”

In fact, these and other companions burned their copies in order to avoid any con[or why are you allowing it to stay written]?” He replied, “O my nephew, I will not remove anything from its original place.

” Similarly,  the  order of the  soorahs  was  fixed  by  the  Prophet  ()   himself, although it is recorded that ‘Alee ibn Abee Taalib had compiled a text in which  the soorahs were ordered according to the time of their revelation. That is, it began with Soorah al-‘Alaq, then al-Mudath-thir, and then Noon.

It has also been recorded that Ibn Mas‘ood had a text which began with Soorah al-Baqarah, then an-Nisaa’, and then Aal‘Imraan; while Ubayy had one which began with Soorah al-Faatihah, then al-Baqarah, an-Nisaa’, and Aal ‘Imraan.

However, none of these  great  companions of the  Prophet  ()  argued  with the  order  confirmed  by Caliph ‘Uthmaan and the committee of sahaabah that copied and distributed copies of the Qur’aan to the various centers of the Muslim state fusion. None of this would have taken place if the order of the soorahs was not fixed.

It should also be noted that Jibreel reviewed the Qur’aan once during every Ramadaan of the Prophet’s life except during the final year, in which he recited it to him twice. For such a review to be of any value, a fixed order had to have been there, especially considering the fact that some of the sahaabah used to listen to the Prophet () as he recited it to Jibreel.


There is nothing recorded from the Prophet () to indicate that the script used to copy the Qur’aan during Caliph ‘Uthmaan’s era was fixed. Caliph ‘Uthmaan told the scribes to write it according to the Qurayshee dialect if any difference arose  in spelling. 

Hence,  when Zayd  ibn Thaabit  differed  with the other   three Qurayshee scribes over the word taaboot, and   Zayd wanted to write it  (taabooh), ‘Uthmaan said, “Write it (taaboot), for verily, the Qur’aan was revealed according to the Qurayshee dialect.”

However, the majority of scholars considered it preferable that the original spelling be maintained in order to protect the Qur’aan from changes which might result from the evolution of writing rules with the passage of time.

These rules also vary from country to country, which could have led to disunity and discord over the very text of the Qur’aan. Hence, when Imaam Maalik was asked whether the Qur’aan could be written according to the dictation rules of his time, he replied, “No, it should only be written according to the way that it was originally written.”

Other scholars, such as Qaadee al-Baaqillaanee (died 1013 CE/403 AH) and Ibn Khaldoon (died 1405 CE/808 AH), considered it permissible to write the Qur’aan according to the rules of standard Arabic, from which the ‘Uthmaanee Mus-haf differs slightly.

Al-Baaqillaanee argued that for someone to insist upon writing the Qur’aan according to a specific set of written symbols requires a proof from the Qur’aan and Sunnah, and there is no such proof.

He also mentioned that some of the prominent sahaabah had mus-hafs which differed from the writing system employed in the ‘Uthmaanee Mus-haf. Ibn Khaldoon (died 1406 CE/808 AH) argued that the sahaabah wrote the ‘Uthmaanee Mus-haf at a time when the rules of Arabic writing had not yet been standardized, therefore there is no need to stick to their writing where it differs from what became the accepted norm.

Al- ‘Izz ibn ‘Abdis-Salaam (died 1282 CE/660 AH) held the position that it was obligatory to write the mus-haf which ordinary people read according to standard Arabic in order to protect the ignorant from falling into errors of recitation that change the meaning. Those who see the permissibility of this change point out that what people are reading today and calling the ‘Uthmaanee Mushaf is really quite different from the way the ‘Uthmaanee Mushaf originally looked.

The changes were all made for one purpose: to make it easier for the average Muslim to recite the Qur’aan easily and correctly. The defenders of the ‘Uthmaanee Mus-haf point out that the sahaabah wrote it in such a way as to accomodate the greatest number of variant authentic recitations, and that writing it according to modern standard Arabic would make some of the variants impossible to reconcile with the script.

The Qur’aanic texts of ‘Uthmaan’s era were written without dashes (tashkeel, i.e. fat-hah, kasrah and dammah) to indicate the vowels and without dots (nuqat) to distinguish between look-alike letters (e.g. Seen and Sheen, Saad and Daad, etc.)

The verses were not numbered, nor were there any punctuation signs to indicate pauses or even the ending of verses. The following is an example of some Qur’aanic verses written during that era:

All the literate Arab Muslims of those days possessed a natural grasp of the language which enabled them to read texts written in this simple form without any difficulty.

However, when non-Arabs began to accept Islaam and learn Arabic, errors in the recitation of the Qur’aan began to appear, due to their unfamiliarity with the language. This became especially noticeable in the province of Iraq. In fact, it is reported that once the grammarian, Abul-Aswad ad-Du’alee (d. 638 CE), heard someone recite the phrase “rasooluh” in the following verse as “rasoolih.” “ Annal-laaha baree-um minal-mushrikeena wa rasooluh”

“Verily, Allaah and His Messenger are free from (any obligation) to the idolaters.”

This minute change in recitation of a kasrah instead of a dammah, which could not be distinguished in the written text caused the verse to mean instead: “Verily Allaah is free from (any obligation) to the idolaters and His messenger.

” Ziyaad, the governor of al-Basrah, had previously requested ad-Du’alee to develop some signs by which the masses could more easily read the Qur’aan. Ad-Du’alee had delayed responding to the governor’s request for fear of introducing an un-Islamic innovation.

However, this recitational error shook him to such a degree that shortly after that incident, he developed the first set of marks to indicate the vowelling of the Arabic text.

The fat-hah (the short vowel “a”) was indicated  by a dot above the beginning of the letter, kasrah (the short vowel “i”) was indicated by a dot below the beginning of the letter, and dammah (the short  vowel “u”) was indicated by a dot at the end of the letter, between it and the following letter if they were joined. Sukoon (indicating the end of a syllable on a consonant) was represented by two dots. An example of a text from that period follows: 8cm X 4cm.

Later on, dots were added to distinguish between look-alike letters,  and vowel signs evolved from the letters related to them. For example, fat-hah evolved from the alif and became a straight line above the letter; the kasrah evolved from the yaa’ and became a line below the letter; and dammah evolved from the waaw and became a tiny waaw written near the end of the letter.

Decoration of the Text

In the third century after the Hijrah (9th century C.E.), calligraphers began competing with each other in the beautification of the Qur’aan. A number of flowery scripts evolved and a variety of distinguishing marks appeared. It was during this period that the sign “ ّ ”, indicating a doubled consonant (tashdeed), first came into use.

Following that, calligraphers began the practice of writing the name of the soorah and the number of verses in it at the beginning of each soorah.

Since the Prophet () only mentioned a few of the soorahs by name and it was the practice among the sahaabah to entitle the soorahs according to the introductory phrases (e.g. Soorah Ara’ayta is now known as Soorah Maa‘oon), a variety of names for the same soorah became common.

Signs indicating the beginning and ending of verses, signs showing the division of the Qur’aan according to juz’ (one of 30 parts), hizb (half a juz’) or rukoo‘, as well as a variety of punctuation marks, were added to the text during this period.

The scholars of the time were opposed to these additions, fearing interpolations (additions to the main text). They based their opposition also on  the statement of the sahaabee Ibn Mas‘ood, “Keep the Qur’aan free from additions and do not mix anything with it.

” Most scholars, however, were not against the dots and dashes to indicate vowelling and differentiate between look- alike letters, as these had become a real necessity for correct recitation and protection of the Qur’aanic text from distortion. Al-Hasan al-Basree, Ibn Seereen, and Rabee‘ah (scholars among the students of the sahaabah) were all reported to have said that the nuqtah (dots for distinguishing look-alike letters) and tashkeel (vowel markings) were acceptable.

In time, the widespread additions and decorations of calligraphers became so commonplace that the early objections of the scholars were forgotten. The Qur’aanic texts of today are clear evidence that the opposition of the scholars was ignored, but the feared interpolation of decorative additions has not occurred, due mainly to the continuing tradition among Muslims of memorizing the whole text of the Qur’aan in its original purity.