In his long introduction to kitāb al-sab‘a fī al-qirā’āt by Ibn Mujāhid, Shawqi Ḍayf provides a detailed account of the early history of the Qur’ān, which reflects the standard Muslim view of that history. He stresses that the recitation of the Qur’ān always depended on oral transmission. He writes:

Although the Qur’ān was recorded in ‘Uthman’s muṣḥaf, its recitation was never based on the written muṣḥaf but rather on the sound chain of transmission going back to the time of the Prophet. The basis (al-asās) has always been the narration from the Prophet, whose Companions received the revelation from him orally. Subsequently, their followers received it from them, and that continued through a chain of transmission from one generation to the next. 1

Ḍayf continues:

It is known that the writing of the ‘Uthman muṣḥaf does not include points and diacritics, which makes possible all the readings transmitted from the Prophet. It occurred to some orientalists and discreditors (al-mustashriqīn wa al- ṭā‘inīn) of the Qur’ān that these readings are the result of the nature of the rasm of the ‘Uthmanic muṣḥaf.… So when some readers read fa-tabayyanū or fa-tathabbatū in Q4:94… that is not a matter of individual judgment (ijtihād) in reading the ‘Uthmanic muṣḥaf but a reading transmitted by a successive chain of transmission (tawātur) from the Prophet. This means that these readings are older than the rasm and do not depend on it or have a connection with it. 2

Ḍayf’s assertion that the reading of words such as fa-tabayyanū or fa-tathabbatū was transmitted by a successive chain of transmission (tawātur) from the Prophet cannot in fact be maintained. Upon careful examination of the hundreds of forms listed by Ibn Mujāhid as instances of variation among the seven canonical readers, one can only conclude that these readers were reading the same written form or rasm. Their readings differed in the way dots and vowel signs were assigned to it. The pronunciation of pairs of words like fa-tabayyanū/ fa-tathabbatū (Q4:94), ya‘malūn/ta‘malūn (Q2:74, 85, 144), kabīr/kathīr (Q2:219), nanshuruhā/nunshizuhā (Q2:259), and many others where variation is clearly the result of a dotting or voweling scheme cannot be the result of dialectal differences or the replacement of one word by a synonym. Why would fa-tathabbatū alternate only with fa-tabayyanū, with the same number of “hooks” but different letters, and not with fa-tayaqqanū, with the same meaning but a different rasm? Why would hundreds of words differ in the placement of the dots over or under the same letters, resulting in a pronunciation that changes the subject pronoun only from “they” to “you, pl.”, or from “he” to “we”, as in ya‘malūn “they do” to ta‘malūn “you, pl. m., do” (Q2:74) 3 or wa-yu‘allimuhu “and he teaches him” to wa-nu‘allimuhu “and we teach him” (Q3:48), 4 but not from ya‘malūn “they do” to na‘mal “we do” or from wa-nu‘allimuhu to wa-tu‘allimūnahu “and you, pl., teach him”?