The Myth of the Egyptian Standard Version of Quran!

One tired but consistent effort that the online Christian community engages in while talking about Quran is to use whatever terms they have in store for the bible to designate into Quran. While that wouldn’t have been an issue if Quran and Bible were comparable in their compilation, the two are so widely different that this is akin to a subterfuge. One such myth that is quite popular in the Christian circle is the so-called Egyptian version of the Quran, popularly known in the Christian missionary circle as the “Egyptian standard version”. In this short article, I will try to elucidate this concept given most Muslims when hearing about this becomes puzzled. In my short article, I am purposefully mining the answers from “Studies in two transmissions of the Qur’an” a Ph.D. thesis by Adrian A. Brockett. This thesis is done by a western scholar of Quranic transmission of Hafs and Warsh. As such a claim of Muslim scholars minimizing the significance of alleged concern can’t be made.

What is the “Egyptian Standard Version”?

In the Hijri 1342, that is, 1924 an effort was taken by Egyptian scholars to formalize a manuscript in print format. This was done under the patronage of King Fuad I of Egypt. What was different in this manuscript was it tried to go back to the original text of Caliph Uthman and as such the orthography of the text broke away from the regular one that was popular among the people. Orthography is referred to the convention of spellings that people use, as such some difference in orthography in English is the change of “Labour” to “Labor” or “Centre” to “Center”. Due to changes in age and time people’s use of the alphabet changes and as such. Many of the time it is done to accommodate phonetics and spelling. Thus the orthographical changes are a regularity with the evolution of language and its change doesn’t vary the message unless there are other extraneous reasons. Thus the Egyptian print going back to the earlier form of Arabic orthography minimized the use of alif which became part of the orthography during later times for ease of pronunciation. Arabic unlike English seldom uses the vowels in its written text and as such the change of orthography due to pronunciation is perhaps more marked compared to English. However, that change has no bearing on the meaning of the text nor the content.

Why was there a need for Egyptian print?

Printing press in Islamic land became quite popular in that period, not to mention previously Egypt was importing printed copies of Quran from abroad. Due to the weakening and fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, Egypt aspired to become the next religious central of Islam. The prestigious university Azhar made it mandatory to have the whole Quran memorized as an entry requirement in 1921. Quran as a much-needed text to learn for the children became a requirement and importing from other places when printing press started to become ubiquitous in Egypt was not optimal. Not surprising thus, the 1342 Cairo text employed the latest printing technology along with 4 of the 5 signatories were teachers in some capacity. A similar attempt was done by Saudi Arabia in their publishing of the Quran under King Fahd Printing Press at the behest of Shaikh Ibn Baz (rh). Anyone comparing that publication of Quran with the one which, say for example is popular in the Indian subcontinent will find some variations in the spelling conventions especially with regards vowels such as dagger alif, but no one in the right mind would claim that is another version of Quran for the content of Quran remains unchanged.

Is it valid to refer to this mushaf as “Egyptian Standard Edition”?

No, it’s neither standard nor an edition of the Quran, not to mention the mushaf was initially limited to Egypt as noted above, this text was created to minimize import. It was neither seen as an official or standard text elsewhere in the Muslim world such as other parts of North Africa or Central Asia. It did gain some prominence in the Indian subcontinent but it was neither seen as the official Quran in comparison to what they were reading from before. In few decades after this Saudi Arabia, themselves produced a mushaf with orthography more in line with the Arabic spelling custom they are more familiar with in the King Fahd press as noted above.

Secondly, when Christians try to use the term edition it refers to works like the Revised standard version in comparison to the King James version and the like. Such a notion simply doesn’t apply to the Quran. The Quran isn’t a critical text where classical manuscripts are examined to make an educated guess of what the text can be and to what certainty, as such the text of the bible remains eclectic. The Quran is a non-eclectic text where the strands of the reading remain both in text and in memory parallelly going back in generations to the Prophet (saw). The recitation was codified by amassing the various ways the Prophet recited the Quran (7 modes of recitation) by experts of the Qiraat, it was not canonized. As such to call this an edition which gives the sense that there was editorial activity involved not just in transcribing the Quran properly rather in formulating the text itself is simply wrong. All in all the 1342 Cairo text is neither official in the pan Islamic sense nor a standard edition even in the Egyptian sense.

Conclusion

The whole Egyptian standard version is a definition of much ado about nothing. What it does have is orthography variation and verse numberings for the Qiraat of Hafs, which may differ from other print presses. However, this is neither strange nor variant given change of the spelling of the same word doesn’t change the word and verse numbering doesn’t change the text especially when in Qurans recitation there are marked places other than the verse ending where we must stop or shouldn’t stop. As such the reciting content of the text itself, which is the Quran remains unscathed.

This whole hullaballoo is more akin to an emperor after realizing he has no clothes tries to convince the others that because their shirt has buttonholes, they are also naked. The fact of the matter is they are not and those buttonholes are there by design and necessity which helps in maintaining the cloth they have adorned to stay in the proper place as such that’s exactly the opposite of having no clothes. We have reached a point in time where old manuscripts of the Bible have shown us the way scribes changed the text and how those changes persisted as a valid and at times the actual content of the books in the bible. On the other hand, we have the Quran which students of the prophet learned from the prophet (saw) and after consultation and discussion a text that represented what the Prophet (saw) taught was spread around the Islamic lands. There simply is no comparison.

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