Shorthand and the Quran

It is well known that the Quran's oldest texts did not contain the diacritical marks which function to show short vowels and stresses. But in fact the situation is even more drastic than that, because it was written in a form of what we might call shorthand, where one symbol could actually represent up to six different letters, thus you could have the word mslm which you could read "muslim" or "musallim" (the one who renders or gives) or, somewhat exotically, "musallam" (the thing that is rendered or given) or even muslam (that which is rendered or yielded), or if we are feeling like going way deep into the recondite grammatical recesses of the Arabic language, "maslam" a place of safety or security. And that is not counting the possibility that the s could also be a sh (though sh l m is not a normal trilateral root in Arabic).

But here is a nice little story to give you an example:

When more and more Muslims of non-Arab origin and also
many ignorant Arabs' studied the Qur'an, faulty pronunciation
and wrong readings began to increase. It is related that at the
time of Du'all (d. 69H/638) someone in Basra read the follow-
ing aya from the Qur'an in a faulty way, which changed the
meaning completely: :

That God and His apostle dissolve obligations with the
pagans' (9: 3).

'That God dissolves obligations with the pagans and the

The mistake occurred through wrongly reading rasulihi
in place of rasuluhu, which could not be distinguished
from the written text, because there were no signs or accents
indicating the correct pronunciation. Unless someone had
memorised the correct version he could out of ignorance
easily commit such a mistake.


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