In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious and The Most Merciful
INTRODUCTION TO THE GLORIOUS QUR’AN
This [Qur’an] is a clear statement to [all] the people and a guidance and instruction for those conscious of Allah.” [The Qur’an-3:138]
The Qur’an is the Last and the Final message of Allah (Arabic word for God) the Almighty revealed to the honorable Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) delivered by Angel Jibrael (Gabriel) in the blessed land of Makkah and Madina (Saudi Arabia). Its revelation started in the Islamic month of Ramadan in the year 610 CE and completed over a period of 23 years.
These 23 years of revelation resulted in a book which comprised of 114 chapters and over 6000 verses. The Qur’an contains a universal message of Allah to the whole mankind without any limitation to space or time. It includes all the subjects that concern human beings, such as doctrine, family, wisdom, worship, economy, etc. It is a source of guidance, healing and mercy to those who have faith. It is neither crooked not does it contain any defects.
Qur’an: Definition of the Term
The word ‘Qur’an’ a verbal noun, is equivalent in meaning to ‘qiraa’ah’ as both come from the verb ‘qara’a’ which means ‘to read’.
That is, Qur’an literally means ‘a reading or reciting’.[ Arabic-English Lexicon, vol. 2, p. 2502] However, the term ‘Qur’an’ has been historically used specifically to refer to the book which was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). The term ‘Qur’an’ is mentioned in a number of places throughout the book in reference to itself. For example:
“Verily, this Qur’an guides (humanity) to that which is most just.”[The Qur’an- 17:9]
The name Qur’an is used to refer to both the Qur’an as a whole, as in the previously quoted verse; as well as to each verse or group of verses, as in the following verse:
“And if the Qur’an is recited, you should listen to it and be silent, that you may receive mercy.”[The Qur’an-7:204]
The Book has also been referred to by other names; for example,
The Furqaan (The Distinction):
“Blessed is He who revealed the Furqaan to His slave in order that he may be a warner to all the worlds.”[The Qur’an-25:1]
and the Dhikr, (The Reminder):
“Verily, I revealed the Dhikr and verily I will preserve it.” [The Qur’an-15:9]
The Qur’an is Allah’s words which were revealed in Arabic to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Its recitation is used in acts of worship and even its smallest chapter(surah) is of a miraculous nature.
The Prophet’s divinely inspired statements which were recorded by his followers are generally referred to as Hadiths(sayings). For example, the Prophet’s companion (sahaabi), ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab, reported that he once said,
“Verily, deeds are (judged) by their intentions.” [Collected by al-Bukhaari (Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 1, p. 1, no. 1) and Muslim (Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, p. 1056, no. 4692)]
However, in some of his statements, the Prophet (peace be upon him) attributed what he said to Allah; for example, another companion, Abu Hurayrah, reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Allah, Most High, says, ‘I am as My slave thinks of Me and I am with him when he remembers me. So if he remembers Me to himself, I will remember him to Myself and if he remembers Me in a group, I will remember him in a better group.’ ”[ Collected by al-Bukhaari (Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 9, pp. 369-70, no. 502) and Muslim (Sahih Muslim, vol. 4, p. 1408, no. 6471)]
In order to distinguish this type of hadith from the previous type, it is referred to as hadith qudsi (sacred hadith) and the former referred to as hadith nabawi (prophetic hadith).
The Qur’an, however, is not the same as hadith Qudsi for a number of reasons.
- First, the Qur’an is from Allah both in its wording and in its meaning, while in the case of hadith qudsi, its meaning is from Allah but its wording were of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
- Second, Allah challenged the Arabs and mankind in general to produce even a chapter equivalent to one of the Qur’an’s chapters, and their inability to do so proves its miraculous nature. This is not so in the case of hadith qudsi.
- Third, the recitation of the Qur’an is used in salaah (prayer) and is itself considered a form of worship. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah, he will have a reward. And that reward will be multiplied by ten. I am not saying that “Alif, Laam, Meem” is a letter, rather I am saying that “Alif” is a letter, “laam” is a letter, and “meem” is a letter”.[ Reported by Ibn Mas‘ood and collected by at-Tirmidhi and Ahmad]
However, the recitation of hadith qudsi carries none of these properties.[ See Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, p. 15, and Qawaa’id at-Tahdeeth min Funoon Mustalih al-Hadith, p. 56]
Language of the Qur’an:
“Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand.” [The Qur’an-12:2]
The Arabic language is the most eloquent, plain, deep and expressive of the meanings that might arise in one’s mind. Therefore, the most honorable Book, was revealed in the most honorable language, to the most honorable Prophet and Messenger, delivered by the most honorable angel, in the most honorable land on earth, and its revelation started during the most honorable month of the year, Ramadan. Therefore, the Qur’an is perfect in every respect. [Commentary of Qur’an from Tafsir ibn khathir]
Why the Qur’an is revealed in Arabic?
The following reasons have been given in the Qur’an for its revelation in Arabic language:
1. Arabic was the language of the people where it was revealed
“And thus: We have revealed to you a Qur’an in Arabic so that you may warn the Foremost of all towns and those who dwell around it, and may warn of the Day of Gathering, which is beyond all doubt. One group will be in the Garden, and one group will be in the Flames.” [The Qur’an-42:7]
2. To explain it without any want of clarity, distinctness or perspicuousness
“Now if We had made it a Qur’an in a non-Arabic tongue they would surely have said, “Why is it that its verses have not been made clear? Why – a foreign tongue and an Arab?” Say, “For those who accept it, this is a Guidance and medicine for a wholesome life. But as for those who will not believe (Arabs or non-Arabs), in their ears is deafness, and so it remains obscure to them. They are like people who are called to from afar.” [Al Qur’an-41:44]
3. To make it easy to understand
“Behold, We have sent it down in all clarity, in the Arabic tongue, so that you might encompass it with your reason.” [Al Qur’an-12:2]
“Behold, We have made it a Qur’an in clear Arabic language that you may fully understand.” [Al Qur’an-43:3]
Arabic was the most advanced and comprehensive language at the time when Qur’an was being revealed and it still is the most comprehensive. The terms, concepts and themes would be best clarified and explained in Arabic language and last but not the least, it was the language of the people where it was revealed.
The Style of the Quran:
What topics does the Quran discuss? It covers various subjects. Most importantly, it talks about the unity of God and how to live which accords to His Will. Other topics include religious doctrine, creation, criminal and civil law, Judaism, Christianity, polytheism, social values, morality, history, stories of past prophets, and science.
The Qur’an calls the great human exemplars of the past prophets and mentions their great sacrifice in spreading the message of God, the most important of them being Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (peace be upon them). The Qur’an elaborates on the ways in which the followers of the prophets, specifically the Jews and the Christians, have or have not lived up to the prophetic messages.
It also discusses the fate of past nations who rejected their Prophets, such as Noah and Lut (peace be upon them). It issues instructions on how to live a life pleasing to God. It commands people that they should pray, fast and take care of the needy. It discusses matters of human inter-relationships, sometimes in great detail – such as laws of inheritance and marriage.
The Qur’an tells people that they should observe God’s instructions purely for God’s sake, not for any worldly aims. It warns those who deny God’s messages that they will be thrown into the fire of Hell, and it promises those who accept the messages that they will be given the bliss of Paradise.
The Qur’an retells in their original many of the stories, especially that of Moses (mentioned by name more than any other person, followed by Pharaoh, his great enemy, who is the Qur’anic archetype of human evil). It has much to say about the moral and legal duties of believers.
Also, the Qur’an repeats certain verses and themes at times, shifts topics, and often relates narratives in summarized form. We can see two reasons for this characteristic.
First, it serves a linguistic purpose and is one of the powerful rhetorical techniques of classical Arabic.
Second, all themes of the Qur’an, no matter how varied, are wrapped around one common thread running through the entire book: that all types of worship rendered to others besides or alongside God is false, and that obedience to Him and His prophets, Muhammad(peace be upon him) being one of them, is a must.
The Qur’an, unlike the Bible, does not mention genealogies, chronological events, or minute historical details, but rather uses events from both past and present to illustrate its central message.
So, when the Qur’an is discussing the healing properties of honey or the life of Jesus, neither topic is an end in itself, but each is related in one way or another to the central message – unity of God and unity of the prophetic message. No matter what the topic may be, it finds occasion to refer the discussion back to this central theme.
Another important point to keep in mind is that the Qur’an was not revealed in one sitting, but was revealed in parts over a span of 23 years. Many passages were revealed in response to specific events.
Often, Qur’anic revelation would come from Almighty Allah to Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him) as a response to questions raised by those around him, whether believers or unbelievers.
The Qur’an addresses the People of the Scripture (a term used by the Quran for Jews and Christians), humanity at large, believers and finally, it addresses the Prophet himself, commanding him what to do in certain situations or supporting him and giving him solace in the face of ridicule and rejection. Knowing the historical and social context clarifies the text.
Some other notable features of Qur’an’s style are the following:
(1) The use of parables to stir curiosity of the reader and explain deep truths.
(2) More than two hundred passages begin with the Arabic word Qul – ‘Say’ – addressing Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him) to say what follows in reply to a question, to explain a matter of faith, or to announce a legal ruling. For example,
“Say: ‘O People of the Scripture! Do you disapprove of us for no other reason than that we believe in God, and the revelation that has come to us and that which came before (us), and because most of you are rebellious and disobedient?’” [The Quran-5:59]
(3) In some passages of the Qur’an, God takes oaths by His marvelous creation to strengthen an argument or to dispel doubts in the mind of the listener,
“By the sun and its brightness,
by the moon when it follows it,
by the day when it displays it,
by the night when it covers it,
by the sky and He who constructed it,
by the earth and He who spread it,
by the soul and He who proportioned it…” [The Quran -91:1-7]
Sometimes God takes an oath by Himself:
“But no, by your Lord, they will not (truly) believe until they make you, (O Muhammad), judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in (full, willing) submission.” [The Quran 4:65]
(4) Lastly, the Qur’an has what is called ‘the disjointed letters,’ composed of letters of the Arabic alphabet which taken together do not have a known meaning in the Arabic lexicon.
Their meaning is only known to God. They appear at the beginning of twenty nine chapters, and upon recital, each letter is pronounced and not the words they form. For example, the first verse of Surah al Baqarah appears as Alif-Lam-Mim, three letters of the Arabic alphabet pronounced individually.
A person unfamiliar with the Qur’an may find it a little difficult to read, especially at start, but if they keep these points in mind, they will become more accustomed to it, and they will indeed find that even though it is a translation, it is truly profound book incomparable to any other.
REVELATION AND HOW IT CAME TO THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD(Peace Be Upon Him):
God guides His Creation
Allah the Creator has not only brought about the creation, but continues to sustain and direct it, in the way that He has created us and all that is around us. He has provided many forms of guidance, indeed, a system of guiding principles, of which the laws of ‘nature’ are a part.
But Allah has also granted a special form of guidance to mankind from the outset of its occupancy of the earth. He promised to Adam and his descendants:
“We said, “Go down from it, all of you. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows My guidance – there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve.” [Al Quran 2: 38].
[The word here used for guidance is hudan.] This guidance comes through the prophets, whom Allah continuously sent to mankind, until the last messenger, Muhammad (peace be upon him) received His final guidance.
Guidance through Revelation
We call a man to whom God in his own way communicates His guidance, a prophet or messenger (nabi/ rasul). Prophets receive the word of God through revelation and then communicate it to their fellow human beings:
“We have sent thee INSPIRATION, as We sent it to Noah and the messengers after him: We sent INSPIRATION to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Harun and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. Of some apostles, We have already told the story, of others We have not and to Moses God spoke direct apostles who gave good news as well as warning, that mankind after (the coming) of the apostles should have no plea against God: for God is exalted in power and ways.” [The Qur’an-4: 163-5].
The two words capitalized in the above translation are both derived from the Arabic root ‘wahy’.
The Meaning of Wahy
The word awha, from which ‘wahy’ (revelation) is derived, occurs in a number of shades of meaning in the Qur’an, each of them indicating the main underlying idea of inspiration directing or guiding someone. In each example below, the italicized words in the translation are forms of the root word wahy in the original text of the Qur’an:
- Guidance in natural intuition:
“So we sent this INSPIRATION to the mother of Moses . . .” [The Qur’an-28: 7]
- Guidance in natural instinct:
“And thy Lord TAUGHT the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees and in (man’s) habitations.” [The Qur’an-16: 68]
- Guidance by signs:
“So Zakaria came out to his people from his chamber: he told them by signs to celebrate God’s praises in the morning and in the evening” [The Qur’an-19: 11]
- Guidance from evil:
“Likewise did we make for every messenger an enemy evil ones among men and jinns, inspiring each other with flowery discourses by way of deception …” [The Qur’an-6: 112]
- Guidance from God:
“Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message) …” [The Qur’an-8:12]
Wahy in the sense of ‘revelation’ is guidance from God for His creation, brought by the Prophets, who received the word from God through one of the means mentioned in the following Qur’anic verse:
“It is not fitting for a man that God should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending of a messenger to reveal with God’s permission what God wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise.” [The Qur’an-42: 51]
Means of revelation are:
- Inspiration, e.g. in a dream (see 37:102, where it is related that Ibrahim receives guidance in a vision, while asleep, to sacrifice his son).
- Speech hidden away (see 27:8, where it is related that God spoke to Musa from the fire).
- Words (speech) sent through a special messenger from God (see 2:97,where it is related that God sent the Angel Gabriel as the messenger to Muhammad(peace be upon him) to reveal His message).
The Qur’an revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him)
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the last of God’s messengers, received the revelation of the Qur’an through a special messenger sent by God for this purpose: the Angel Gabriel, who recited to him God’s words exactly.
The Descent of The Qur’an
- According to Suyuti’ [al Itqan fi ulum al Qur’an, Beirut, 1973, Vol. I pp. 39-40] on the basis of three reports from ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas, in Hakim, Baihaqi and Nasa’i, the Qur’an descended in two stages: From the ‘well-preserved tablet'(lauh al mahfooz), to the lowest of the heavens (bait al-‘izza) of the world, all together, in the lailat ul-qadr(night of the decree).
- From the heavens to earth in stages throughout the twenty-three years of Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) prophet hood, and first in the night of decree of Ramadan, through the Angel Gabriel.
This second descent from the heaven to the heart of the Prophet is referred to in Chapter 17 and Chapter 25 of The Qur’an.
The need for revelation (Wahy):
Every Muslim knows that Allah Almighty has sent human into this world as a matter of test, and in return for their being (for a successful life in hereafter) obligated with certain duties, the whole universe has been placed at their service.
For this reason human, once they are in the world, must do two things:
• They should make the best use of this world, and of things created in it.
• While using this world to their advantage, they should keep the injunctions of Allah Almighty in sight and do nothing that goes against His will and pleasure.
For these two functions human needs knowledge. Therefore, unless they know the reality of this world, the properties of different things and the manner in which they can be put to use, they cannot use anything in this world to their advantage.
Likewise, unless and until they know the will of Allah Almighty as to what pleases Him and what displeases Him, it will be impossible for them to lead a life in line with the will of their Lord. So Allah Almighty, along with the creation of human beings, has created three things through which they could continue receiving knowledge of the above-mentioned matters of concern. These are:
1. Human’s senses, that is, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the hands and the feet.
2. The reason.
3. The Revelation (Wahy)
Consequently, human may find out many things through their senses, many others through reason, and the knowledge of things they cannot get through senses and reason are bestowed upon the through divine revelation (Wahy).
The arrangement between these three sources of knowledge is such that each one has its limits, and a particular sphere of activity beyond which it does not work. In natural sequence, the knowledge of things human collect through their senses cannot be deduced through bland reason.
For instance, you know by seeing a wall with your eyes that its color is white. But, should you close your eyes and try to find out the color of that wall on the sole strength of your reason, this will then be impossible. Similarly, the knowledge of things that comes through reason cannot be discovered by senses alone.
For instance, you cannot find out as to who made that wall by simply seeing it with your eyes or touching it with your hands. Not at all, you rather need reason to arrive at that conclusion.
In short, reason gives no guidance as far as the five senses work efficiently, and when the five senses become helpless, reason starts functioning. But, even the guidance given by this reason is not unlimited. This too stops at a certain limit. Then there are things the knowledge of which can neither be acquired through senses nor through reason.
For instance, to find out about this very wall, as to what manner of its use will please Allah Almighty and what manner of its use will displease Him, is possible neither through senses nor through reason. In order to give man the answer to such questions, the source that Allah Almighty has prescribed is what is known as Wahy.
To deliver this knowledge, Allah Almighty selects one of His servants, ordains him as His messenger through him He reveals His Word. This Word is called revelation (Wahy).
This makes it clear that Wahy is the highest source of knowledge for man which offers to the answer to questions about their life which cannot be solved by means of reason and senses, but, they still has to have that knowledge.
This further explains that reason and perception alone are not enough to show man the way. It is rather all the more necessary, almost inevitable, that the Divine revelation be there for their guidance.
Since, Wahy is basically needed where reason does not work, it is, therefore, not necessary that everything communicated through Wahy be compulsively comprehended through reason.
On the contrary, as reason is no help in finding out the color of some object since that is the job of the senses, so is the knowledge of many religious beliefs, the gracious giving of which is the sole prerogative of Wahy and not of reason.
Furthermore, trusting reason alone for their comprehension is not sound and correct. To begin with, it is totally senseless to discuss the issue of Wahy with a person who, God forbid, does not accept the very existence of God.
But, for a person who believes in the existence of Allah Almighty and has faith in His perfect power, it is not at all difficult to understand that Wahy is a rational need, that it is possible and that it is there for real.
If you have faith in the fact that this universe has been created by an absolutely powerful entity, He is the One Who has sent man down here to accomplish some particular mission, how then is it possible to imagine that He, after once having created man, would leave them off in total darkness,
“Alif-Laam-Ra‚ a Book which We have revealed unto you (O Muhammad peace be upon him) in order that you might lead mankind out of darkness (of disbelief and polytheism) into light (of belief in the Oneness of Allah and Islamic Monotheism) by their Lord’s Leave to the Path of the All-Mighty, the Owner of all Praise.”[The Qur’an-14:1]
Without ever telling them why did they come into this world, what their duties were, where were they destined to go and how could they realize the purpose of their life?
How could a person, whose sanity is still there, send one of their servant on a certain trip under a designated mission without ever telling him the purpose of the trip while he is leaving, nor explaining it to him later on through some message as to why he has been sent out there and what duties he is supposed to carry out during the trip?
When a man of ordinary reason cannot do something like this, how can something like this be imagined with respect to the most Holy Lord of the Universe under Whose ultimate wisdom this whole system of the universe is functioning? After all, how is it possible that the Being, that did create such a mind-boggling system composed of the moon, the sun, the sky, the earth, the stars and the planets, would remain unable to institute some arrangement of communication with His servants, through which human beings could be given guidance about the purpose of their lives?
If there is faith(iman) in the ultimate wisdom of Allah Almighty, then admitting that He did not forsake His servants in the dark, will become all the more necessary; rather on the contrary, He has surely instituted some regular system for their guidance And so, this very regular system of guidance is known as Wahy (Revelation) and Risalah (Prophet hood).
This makes it crystal clear that Wahy is not only a religious belief but also a rational need – the rejection of which amounts to a rejection of the ultimate wisdom of Allah Almighty. The Holy Qur’an contains a universal message for the whole of mankind without any limitation of time and space. It seeks to guide man in all walks of life ñ spiritual or worldly, individual or collective. It contains directions and code of conduct for rich or poor, educated or uneducated alike.
The Qur’an is an ocean of knowledge which deals with thousands of subjects, many of which have not yet been explored by men. It speaks of the best rules relating to laws of culture, civilization, morals , social justice, administration, leadership, mutual dealings, distribution of wealth, economics, spiritualism, Divine recognition, purification of souls, enlightenment of hearts, unions with Allah’s organization and welfare of humanity, purpose of this creation and so on.
The Qur’an seeks primarily to develop a personality of an individual – every being will be personally responsible to His Creator. With this purpose, the Qur’an not only gives commands, but also tries to convince. It appeals to man’s reason as it relates stories, parables and metaphors. It describes the attributes of Allah, Who is One, Creator of All, Knower, Powerful, capable of resuscitating us after death and taking account of our worldly behavior, Just, Merciful, etc.
It contains also the mode of praising Allah, of pointing out which are the best prayers, what the duties of man are with regard to Allah, to his fellow-beings and to his own self. It reminds them everything belongs to Allah and He expects us to utilize it according to His wish in exchange for everlasting life in hereafter in Paradise.
The Qur’an speaks of the best rules relating to social life, commerce, marriage, inheritance, penal law, international law, and so on. But the Qur’an is not a book in the ordinary sense – it is a collection of the Words of Allah, were revealed, during the course of twenty-three years, to His messenger sent among human beings.
The Qur’an employs graphically the word “king” for Allah, and “slave” for man. When a king desires to communicate a message to His slave, He sends a messenger, and gives His instructions to his envoy. Therefore, there are certain things understood and implied; there are repetitions, and even changes of the forms of expression.
Thus Allah speaks sometimes in the first person and sometimes in the third. He says “I” as well as “We” (royal pronoun) and “He”, but never “They”. It is a collection of revelations sent occasion by occasion (and this fact must be recalled to the beginner) and one should therefore read it again and again in order to be able to grasp the meaning better.
It has directions for every person, every place and for all time.
Qur’an has many miraculous attributes proving that it is a revelation from Allah. Every Prophet of Allah is given a miracle ór a sign. The miracle of Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the Qur’an. Today no other miracle of any prophet exists except the Qur’an, a living miracle until the Day of Judgment.
Beginning of Wahy
The revelation of the Qur’an began in the night of decree of Ramadan (the 27th night or one of the odd nights after the 21st) after the Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him) had passed the fortieth year of his life (that is around the year 610), during his seclusion in the cave of Hira’ on a mountain near Makkah.
As reported in the Sahih of Bukhari:
Narrated ‘Aisha the mother of the faithful believers: The commencement of the divine inspiration to Allah’s apostle was in the form of good dreams which came like bright daylight (i.e. true) and then the love of seclusion was bestowed upon him.
He used to go in seclusion in the Cave of Hira’, where he used to worship (Allah alone) continuously for many days before his desire to see his family. He used to take with him food for the stay and then come back to (his wife) Khadija to take his food likewise again, till suddenly the truth descended upon him while he was in the Cave of Hira’.
The angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet replied ‘I do not know how to read’. The Prophet added, ‘The angel caught me (forcibly) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read and I replied, “I do not know how to read”. Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read, but again I replied, “I do not know how to read” (or what shall I read?). Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said:
“Read, in the name of Your Lord, who created, created man from a clot. Read! And Your Lord is the most bountiful”
[Bukhari, I, No. 3; VI, No. 478; Muslim I, No. 301.]
The narration goes on to tell us that the Prophet(peace be upon him) went back to his wife Khadija and recounted to her his dreadful experience. She comforted him and both of them consulted Waraqa, Khadlja’s relative and a learned Christian, about it. Waraqa told Muhammad(pbuh) that he had encountered the one ‘whom Allah had sent to Moses’ and that he would be driven out by his people.
How Revelation came
Narrated Aisha, the mother of the faithful believers: Al-Harith bin Hisham asked Allah’s apostle: ‘O Allah’s apostle. How is the divine inspiration revealed to you?’ Allah’s apostle replied, ‘Sometimes it is “revealed” like the ringing of a bell, this form of inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says’. [Bukhari, I, No. 2]
The First Revelation’ [See Suyuti, Itqan, I, pp.23-4.]
The first revelation that the Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him) received are:
“Read in the name of your Lord, who created, created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is most bountiful. (He who taught) the use of the pen taught man which he knew not.” [The Qur’an 96:1-3]
The remainder of chapter 96, which now has 19 verses, was revealed on some later occasion.
The Pause (fatra)
After the first message thus received, revelation ceased for a certain period (called fatra) and then resumed:
Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah Al-Ansari while talking about the period of pause in revelation reporting the speech of the Prophet(peace be upon him), ‘While I was walking, all of a sudden I heard a voice from the heaven. I looked up and saw the same angel who had visited me at the Cave of Hira’ sitting on a chair between the sky and the earth. I got afraid of him and came back home and said “Wrap me (in blankets)” and then Allah revealed the following holy verses (of the Qur’an): O you covered in your cloak, arise and warn (the people against Allah’s punishment) … up to “and all pollution shun”.’
After this revelation came strongly and regularly. [Bukhari, I, end of No. 3.]
The Second Revelation
The second portion of the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was:
“O you, covered in your cloak, arise and warn, thy Lord magnify, thy raiment purify, pollution shun …” [The Qur’an- 74: 15]
It now consists of 56 verses, the rest revealed later.
Other Early Revelations
Many hold that chapter 73 was the next revelation.
According to others, chapter 1 was the third surah to be revealed. [Suyuti, Itqan, I, p.24.]
Among other early revelations, which the Prophet declared in Makkah, are, according to some reports, chapter 111, chapter 81, chapter 87, chapter 92, chapter 89, etc. Then revelation continued, ‘mentioning Paradise and Hell, and until mankind turned to Islam, then came revelation about halal and haram … ‘ [Suyuti, Itqan, I, p.24.]
Revelation came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) throughout his lifetime, both in Makkah and Madina, i.e. over a period of approximately 23 years, until shortly before his death in the year 10 after Hijra (632).
The Last Revelation
Many Muslim scholars agree that the last revelation was:
“And fear the day when ye shall be brought back to God. Then shall every soul be paid what it earned and none shall be dealt with unjustly.” [The Qur’an-2:281]
Some also say that it was 2:282 or 2:278. [Kamal, Ahmad ‘Adil: ‘ulum al-Qur’an, Cairo, 1974, p.18.]
It has also been suggested that all three verses were revealed on one occasion. The Prophet(peace be upon him) died nine nights after the last revelation.
Others hold the following was the last to be revealed:
“This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” [The Qur’an-5:4]
The opinion that this verse was the last revelation is not sound according to many scholars, since it was revealed during the last pilgrimage of the Prophet(peace be upon him). This information is based upon a hadith from ‘Umar. Suyuti explains concerning the verse in chapter 5 that after it nothing concerning ahkam and hal’al and haram was revealed, and in this sense it is the ‘completion’ of religion. However, revelation reminding man of the coming day of judgement continued and the last such revelation is the above verse. [Sabuni, tibyan pp. 18-9]
Reasons why the Qur’an was sent down in Stages
The Qur’an was revealed in stages over a period of 23 years, and not as a complete book in one single act of revelation.
There are a number of reasons for this; most important are the following:
- To strengthen the heart of the Prophet (peace be upon him) by addressing him continuously and whenever the need for guidance arose.
- Out of consideration for the Prophet (peace be upon him) since revelation was a very difficult experience for him.
- To gradually implement the laws of God.
- To make understanding, application and memorization of the revelation easier for the believers.
Asbab al-nuzul (reasons of the revelations):
The Qur’an has been revealed for guidance, for all times and situations to come. However, various verses were revealed at a particular time in history and in particular circumstances. So we have to know the knowledge about the reasons of the revelations (Asbab al-nuzul). i.e. the knowledge about the events and circumstances in history that are related to the revelation of certain passages from the Qur’an. With the knowledge of the reasons of revelations, it is also to be decided whether the revelation has a specific implication or whether it is of a general nature, and needs to be applied by all Muslims at all times.
Authenticity of Qur’an:
One of the most common myths about the Qur’an, is that Usman, the third Caliph of Islam authenticated and compiled one Qur’an, from a large set of mutually contradicting copies. The Qur’an, revered as the Word of Allah by Muslims the world over, is the same Qur’an as the one revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It was authenticated and written under his personal supervision. We will examine the roots of the myth which says that Usman had the Qur’an authenticated.
1. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself supervised and authenticated the written texts of the Qur’an
Whenever the Prophet received a revelation, he would first memorize it himself and later declare the revelation and instruct to his companions, May Allah be pleased with them all, who would also memorize it. The Prophet(peace be upon him) would immediately ask the scribes to write down the revelation he had received, and he would reconfirm and recheck it himself.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was an Ummi(one who could not read and write). Therefore, after receiving each revelation, he would repeat it to his Companions. They would write down the revelation, and he would recheck by asking them to read what they had written. If there was any mistake, the Prophet would immediately point it out and have it corrected and rechecked.
Similarly he would even recheck and authenticate the portions of the Qur’an memorized by the Companions. In this way, the complete Qur’an was written down under the personal supervision of the prophet (peace be upon him).
2. Order and sequence of Qur’an divinely inspired
The complete Qur’an was revealed over a period of 22½ years portion by portion, as and when it was required. The Qur’an was not compiled by the Prophet in the chronological order of revelation.
The order and sequence of the Qur’an too was divinely inspired and was instructed to the Prophet by Allah through Angel Gabriel. Whenever a revelation was conveyed to his companions, the Prophet would also mention in which chapter and after which verse this new revelation should fit.
Every Ramadan all the portions of the Qur’an that had been revealed, including the order of the verses, were revised and reconfirmed by the Prophet with archangel Gabriel. During the last Ramadan, before the demise of the Prophet, the Qur’an was rechecked and reconfirmed twice.
It is therefore clearly evident that the Qur’an was compiled and authenticated by the Prophet himself during his lifetime, both in the written form as well as in the memory of several of his companions.
3. Qur’an copied on one common material
The complete Qur’an, along with the correct sequence of the verses, was present during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The verses however, were written on separate pieces, scrapes of leather, thin flat stones, leaflets, palm branches, shoulder blades, etc.
After the demise of the prophet, Abu Bakr(may Allah be pleased with him), the first caliph of Islam ordered that the Qur’an be copied from the various different materials on to a common material and place, which was in the shape of sheets. These were tied with strings so that nothing of the compilation was lost.
4. Usman (may Allah be pleased with him) made copies of the Qur’an from the original manuscript
Many Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to write down the revelation of the Qur’an on their own whenever they heard it from the lips of the Prophet. However what they wrote was not personally verified by the Prophet and thus could contain mistakes.
All the verses revealed to the Prophet may not have been heard personally by all the Companions. There were high possibilities of different portions of the Qur’an being missed by different Companions. This gave rise to disputes among Muslims regarding the different contents of the Qur’an during the period of the third Caliph Usman(may Allah be pleased with him).
Usman(may Allah be pleased with him) borrowed the original manuscript of the Qur’an, which was authorized by the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him), from Hafsha (may Allah be pleased with her), the Prophet’s wife.
Usman(may Allah be pleased with him) ordered four Companions who were among the scribes who wrote the Qur’an when the Prophet dictated it, led by Zaid bin Thabit (may Allah be pleased with him) to rewrite the script in several perfect copies. These were sent by Usman(may Allah be pleased with him) to the main centers of Muslims.
There were other personal collections of the portions of the Qur’an that people had with them. These might have been incomplete and with mistakes. Usman(may Allah be pleased with him) only appealed to the people to destroy all these copies which did not match the original manuscript of the Qur’an in order to preserve the original text of the Qur’an.
Two such copies of the copied text of the original Qur’an authenticated by the Prophet are present to this day, one at the museum in Tashkent in erstwhile Soviet Union and the other at the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey.
5. Diacritical marks were added for non-Arabs
The original manuscript of the Qur’an does not have the signs indicating the vowels in Arabic script. These vowels are known as tashkil, zabar, zair, paish in Urdu and as fatah, damma and qasra in Arabic. The Arabs did not require the vowel signs and diacritical marks for correct pronunciation of the Qur’an since it was their mother tongue.
For Muslims of non-Arab origin, however, it was difficult to recite the Qur’an correctly without the vowels. These marks were introduced into the Qur’anic script during the time of the fifth ‘Umayyad’ Caliph, Malik-ar-Marwan (66-86 Hijri/685-705 C.E.) and during the governorship of Al-Hajaj in Iraq.
Some people argue that the present copy of the Qur’an that we have along with the vowels and the diacritical marks is not the same original Qur’an that was present at the Prophet’s time. But they fail to realize that the word Qur’an’ means a recitation.
Therefore, the preservation of the recitation of the Qur’an is important, irrespective of whether the script is different or whether it contains vowels. If the pronunciation and the Arabic is the same, naturally, the meaning remains the same too.
6. Allah Himself has promised to guard the Qur’an
Allah has promised in the Qur’an :
“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly Guard it (from corruption).” [Al-Qur’an 15:9]
Allah says in Glorious Qur’an:
“Verily We: It is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Qur’‚n) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption)” [The Qur’an-15:9]
“It is for Us to collect it and to give you (O Muhammad SAW) the ability to recite it (the Qur’an)…” [The Qur’an-75:17]
Allah guarantees that He will preserve and protect this Book. Some of the remarkable features of the Qur’an are:
Firstly, The Qur’an has been continued to be preserved in Memory by large number of individuals in every age and their number is ever growing.
Secondly its pronunciation or in the manner it was recited had been also preserved and this knowledge is passed on to from person to person thirdly its text is preserved in the original text and it was arranged under the auspices of the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself.
Fourthly, along with its text the meaning of Glorious Qur’an have been preserved , the entire exegesis of the Qur’an is intact today as it was explained to the companions by the Prophet(peace be upon him) and to their successors.
Fifthly, its teachings or commandments have been preserved in action by the Muslim community.
4. Photo credit: Nida Abdul Wasey