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How Dots & Vowels Were Added To The Quran.

posted on: Jan 5, 2022

Quran Manuscript . Photo: Discover True Islam

BY: Anthony Bayyouk / Arab America Contributing Writer

During the early days of Islam, the Quran was first written without dots and vowels. Each Arabic letter has three sounds and each one is written differently. As an Arabic reader, you know what sound is made depending on where the dots are placed on a letter. Just like the Spanish language, if an accent (~) is put over a letter it can change the whole of a word. 

Much time was spent adding the dots and vowels to words of the Quran. There were debates amongst scholars and religious leaders as to whether or not they should add dots and vowels to the words of the Quran. Each sentence had to be carefully studied to ensure the meaning of the Quran remained unchanged. Some things were simpler than others, such as names of people and cities, but other words such as nouns and adjectives were harder.  

Arabic Script From Quran dates 1500 AD. Photo: WikiIslam

Scholars relied on institutions, memory, and context to remember what was revealed to the Prophet. I include memory because it was only a few years after the Prophet’s death when they tried to start adding dots and vowels to the Quran. Before the use of dots and vowels, many native Arabic speakers understood what a word meant through the context of a sentence; however, as Islam was spreading, understanding what a word meant by context was hard for non-native Arabic speakers to do. Scholars knew they needed to come up with a system to help non-native Arabic speakers learn how to read Arabic and understand the scripts meaning. Adding dots and vowels, also known as diacritical marks, helped non-native Arabic speakers understand what sound a word makes and what the meaning of a word is.

Before dots were added people who taught or recited the Quran used the movement of their  mouth to incite what vowel was being used. For spreading the lips a dot was added above the letter, lowering the lips meant dots were added below a letter, and a dot was added right on the letter for rounding the lips. While this method was adequate, colors were also added to the Quran to define the symbols. In Iraq red color was used, in Madinah red was used for dots and yellow for symbols. 

Quran With Only Red Dots. Photo: British Library

Above is an example of a Quran with red dots above and underneath letters. This Quran was said to be written in the 9th century and is still in decent quality today. The writing of the Quran was written in al-Kufah in Iraq. This photo is an example of how other regions in the middle east would add their own symbols to the Quran so it could be understood amongst their people.  

Islam is always taught in Arabic, even if it is not your native language, a Muslim will grow up to read and recite the Quran in the language it was originally written in, which is Arabic. This is because a translation of a word from Arabic to another language can change the meaning of the text. The scholars of Islam always want the language of the Quran to be the same to ensure God’s words aren’t misunderstood or misinterpreted.

The need to add dots and vowels to the Quran started is when Islam started to spread around the middle east. The first followers of Islam were able to understand the Quran without dots or Vowles because that’s how they spoke and wrote Arabic. Other parts of the middle east spoke and wrote Arabic differently and it was nearly impossible for them to understand anything in the Quran. When verses in the Quran are translated to another dialect the meaning can change. This is why all Muslims first learn the Quran in Arabic, because the first scholars and religious leaders believed the Quran can only be fully understood in its original language. 

In 2015, The world’s oldest Quran was found in a library in the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. Radiocarbon tests predict the writing is 1,376 years old, which dates it back to between 568 B.C and 645 A.d. That means it was written during the Prophet Mohammed’s lifetime.  

Finding the oldest Quran in the world is a great discovery for all Muslims around the world. The person that wrote this Quran most likely knew and spent time with the Prophet Mohammed.  

Oldest Quran In The World. Photo: Arabian Business

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