Counting Alifs

The Arabic alphabet has three letters that can serve as either a constant or vowel. These letters are Alif ( أ ), Wow ( و ), and Ya ( ي ). All other vowel sounds in the Arabic language come from diacritical marks and are not part of the original Quranic script which in the written form contained no vowels. The challenge with these three letters when counting their occurrences in the Quran is determining when they are to be considered a vowel, and therefore should not be counted, and when are they to be considered a constant and therefore should be counted.

While this impacts the letters Wow ( و ), and Ya ( ي ), the letter that is most affected by this debate is the letter Alif ( أ ), which happens to also be the most frequently used letter in the Quran. Historically, it is understood that when the Quran was canonized during the reign of Uthman his aim was to unify the composition of the Quran including the specific spelling of words during the compilation of his mus'hafs. This held true, for the most part, except when it comes to the letter Alif we see that not only are there variations within the earliest mus'hafs, but it is almost impossible to find two ancient manuscripts that contain the same counts of Alif. The earliest manuscripts typically fall into one of three buckets in regards to their Alif counts. Some manuscripts appear to use an abundance of Alifs, apparently for clarification in pronunciation, while others use Alif more sparingly, only when it is grammatically necessary, and yet others are somewhere in between.

King Fu'ad Quran (1924 Cario Edition)

In 1924 (1342 A.H.), another attempt was made to unify the script of the Quran. This effort concluded with the standard King Fu'ad Quran of Cairo. It was the first printed Quran approved by the Al-Azhar Mosque, and has become the standard for modern printings of the Quran for most all of the Muslim world.

Despite the effort made for the printing of the 1924 Cairo Quran, we have no guarantee that the spellings that were selected and used for this printing are what was divinely intended when God initially revealed the Quran to the prophet. This attempt at best is the tireless effort of humans who endeavored to use their best judgment to try to match God's Quran as it was intended for the world. Even today there are disputes regarding the spelling of words in this edition.

To put in perspective the variety of spelling when dealing with Alif, below are two folios from the mus'haf attributed to the nephew of the prophet, Ali Ibn Abi Talib, from Sura 18. The items in red show how the spelling of the selected words varies with other manuscripts in regards to the use of Alif. You will see that in some instances there is an extra Alif and in others a shortage.

The Computer Speaks

In 1981, Dr. Rashad Khalifa published his monumental book "The Computer Speaks: God's Message to the World." In this book, Dr. Khalifa presented irrefutable proof that the Quran contained another mechanism of preservation that was previously unknown to the masses based on the number 19. His findings showed that 29 initialed Suras of the Quran occur in their respective suras in multiples of 19. Sometimes independently, and sometimes in collective sets, creating an interlocking mechanism between the initials and their suras. Using these findings, in addition to the other methods of preservation, gives us a solid mechanism to reach ever closer to the perfect Quranic script.

Differences Between King Fu'ad Edition and Computer Speaks Findings

These findings from the Computer Speaks when cross-referenced against the 1924 Cairo Quran match perfectly for all Suras and all initials, with the following exceptions.

The first is for Sura 68, where Rashad Khalifa revealed that the initial Nun in verse one should be written نون as opposed to a single ن bringing the total to 133 (19x7). Much evidence is provided for this claim, in addition to having an example of the letter Nun being spelled out phonetically in the Quran itself.

[21:87] And Zan-Noon (possessor of the N), abandoned his mission in protest, thinking that we could not control him. He ended up imploring from the darkness (of the big fish's belly): "There is no god other than You. Be You glorified. I have committed a gross sin."

وَذَا النُّونِ إِذْ ذَهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا فَظَنَّ أَنْ لَنْ نَقْدِرَ عَلَيْهِ فَنَادَىٰ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ أَنْ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنْتُ مِ

The second difference is in, Sura 11 and Sura 30, where Dr. Khalifa's findings represent one less Lam ( ل ) than can be found in the King Fu'ad edition. And the last discrepancy between Dr. Khalifa's findings and the King Fu'ad Quran is regarding the counts of Alif.

Individual Verse Counts

The intent of this research was to see if it is possible to confirm Rashad's total counts in the Quran for each of the initialed Suras using a consistent approach that matches existing Quranic manuscripts, as well as does not contradict the Quranic recitation or grammar.

If one wanted to match the counts from Dr. Rashad Khalifa's printout with the Quranic script the only way this seems to be possible is by means of selective spelling of certain words. While this isn't unprecedented in the Quran, it becomes problematic to try to find an early manuscript that matches this selective spelling for the respective verses per the counts presented. Additionally, it will become challenging to argue why one spelling is used in one occurrence and a different spelling in a different occurrence. So for the sake of this research, another more consistent approach was utilized when determining spellings and counts. More information on this approach is presented below. This approach causes some of the individual verse counts to not match Dr. Khalifa's findings from The Computer Speaks, but still retains the total counts he represented in his work.

For individuals, who may see fault with this approach it is worth emphasizing that Dr. Khalifa stressed that the final counts from The Computer Speaks were what was divinely orchestrated and not necessarily the individual verse counts. For instance, the printout from his book, "The Computer Speaks" shows the number of occurrences of the word Allah (God) in the Quran, except it accidentally included one occurrence from 9:129 while missing one of the two occurrences in 9:15; thus still providing the correct total value of 2,698 (19x142). Additionally, it indicated that 10:58 has 5 Lams, rather than 6, but still provided the correct total of 913 Lams in the Sura. From these two examples, we see that while there were small errors in the individual counts the total counts were still correct.

Reconciling Differences

Starting from the 1924 Cario Edition each Alif initialed verse was compared against Dr. Khalifa's findings from The Computer Speaks. If the text matched the counts per the printout then it was safe to simply move on to the next verse.

If on the other hand, the printout contained a different count than what was observed initially in the King Fu'ad text then each word would be assessed to try to locate the reason for the discrepancy. The vast majority of these discrepancies rested on the determination of counting the hamza ( ء ) as an alif or not.

The hamza is a letter in the Arabic alphabet, representing the glottal stop. The challenge with the hamza is that it can be in the form of an Alif, Wow, and Ya. Most of the time from the script it is obvious which letter the hamza corresponds to, but other times it is not so clear. This typically occurs when the hamza is in between two connected letters ( ئـ ). When this happens it can potentially be understood as a Ya or an Alif.

On a side note, it is worth pointing out that hamza does not exist in any of the ancient manuscripts. This is because the early manuscripts were written in the style of the Quraish, and it is presumed that the Quraish did not use the hamza in their writings. Despite the hamza not being represented in the early mus'hafs, it is clearly represented in the qir'rat (recitation) of the Quran. The mathematical structure of the Quran gives us certainty that the hamza should definitely be considered as part of the official script of the Quran.

For perspective, Sura 2 is the longest Sura in the entire Quran and it contains 4502 Alifs. In order to reach the same total count of Alifs in Sura 2 as per Dr. Khalifa's findings, this was achieved solely by which determining which hamzas to count as an Alif and which should not be counted. But rather than just choosing which hamza to include as an Alif or not, and thus falling back to the shortcoming of selective spelling, a more consistent approach was utilized. In this count, if any word with a hamza was to be considered as an Alif then the hamza would be considered as an Alif in every occurrence of this word and the derivate of that word throughout the entire Quran. This includes any other Alif initialed Suras. This way the same spelling and Alif count for that word would be utilized throughout the entire Quran.

In addition, to determining which hamzas to count as Alifs, there were other instances where the hamza alone could not account for the differences between the King Fu'ad text and the totals presented by Dr. Khalifa. In these instances, each individual word in the disputed verse would be compared against other alternate spellings based on ancient manuscripts of the Quran. If an alternate spelling was to be selected, then that spelling would be used throughout the entire Quran for that specific word as well as all the derivatives of that word. This way any spelling will be used consistently throughout the entire script of the Quran, just like the method used for counting hamzas.

The outcome of this effort shows that it is possible to replicate Dr. Khalifa's total counts as represented in The Computer Speaks for all 29 initialed Suras, while still maintaining a consistent spelling methodology throughout the Quran, and staying true to the grammar of the Quran as well as the recitation and mus'hafs.

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